Friday, August 01, 2008

Step Brothers / ** (R)

Brennan Huff: Will Ferrell
Dale Doback: John C. Reilly
Nancy Huff: Mary Steenburgen
Dr. Robert Doback: Richard Jenkins
Derek: Adam Scott
Alice: Kathryn Hahn

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Adam McKay. Written by Will Ferrell, McKay, and John C. Reilly. Running time: 95 min. Rated R (for crude and sexual content, and pervasive language).

“Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.”
George W. Bush

“Step Brothers” is as stupid as some of the things our current President has said. It is willing to say so right up front by including the above quotation before the opening credits. Then we get to see two wonderful older actors, Richard Jenkins and the still beautiful Mary Steenburgen, get their game on. Throughout the rest of the movie I couldn’t help thinking what a fascinating movie this would have made if it were about these lovers, with each of their 40-year-old live-in sons providing color as supporting players.

But the movie is about the two middle-aged men who still live with their single parents and suddenly find themselves stepbrothers when their parents fall in love. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly play these 40-year-old adolescents with an unabated knack for capturing the unworldly stupidity of teenaged pubescence. Ferrell and Reilly teamed together well in similarly intellectually challenged roles for 2006’s “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”. Here they prove their chemistry with a staunch insistence on ignorance and moronic ideas.

Reilly is Dale Doback, the son of the surprisingly tolerant Dr. Robert Doback (Jenkins, “The Kingdom”). Dale is the product of a man’s household, where they’ve had the freedom to participate in manly rituals. When Dale lists all the male rituals through which he and his father have bonded through the years as a reason not to let the new stepfamily move in, his dad is quick to point out that they have never done any such things.

Ferrell plays the gentler of the two, Brennan. He’s a momma’s boy. His mother, Nancy (Steenburgen, “The Brave One”), is a severe enabler. Brennan is haunted by childhood teasing from his brother, Derek (Adam Scott, HBO’s “Tell Me You Love Me”), and his jock friends. Derek hasn’t changed much since high school, and his business success far outshines Brennan’s achievement of being fired from Pet Smart.

The first notes of “Step Brothers” are extremely funny in depicting first the two boy/men’s hatred of each other, and then their flowering friendship once they learn they share a common enemy in Derek. As foes they spend their first evening sharing a bedroom, flinging insults and threats at each other. “As soon as you fall asleep, I’m going to punch you square in the face!” As friends the regress even further, play acting like grade-schoolers. “Let’s play karate in the garage!”

The juvenile humor comes on strong in the first half of the film along with some very strong language. Director Adam McKay (“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”) is able to sustain the laughter for a good portion of the movie, considering it consists of two basic jokes-⎯-watch these grown men terrorize each other like children; now watch them play together like children. But eventually the jokes wear as thin.

The second half of the film is a mess as the genre clich├ęs insist these two boy/men must try to grow up and make something of themselves. Once the two have become friends it isn’t as funny to see them go back to being enemies. And it is nearly impossible to accept either Brennan or Dale as the normal adults they try to become.

While some critics might say that Will Ferrell’s shtick is growing old, that is not necessarily the case. “Step Brothers” proves that Ferrell’s brand of juvenile humor is still funny, but it can’t ride on infantile behavior alone. Perhaps if the filmmakers reached higher than the stupidity of some of our President’s statements, they might find themselves in a better class of comedy.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I'd like to pinch you square in the face. That would make my wings take dream.

Anonymous said...

I meant "punch" but, I'll pinch you as well.

Andrew D. Wells said...

Said in the same fashion George W. Bush would have put it.

Anonymous said...

You know who I'd like to punch? Crazy parents who let their children watch anything and then claim, "I have no idea where they learned that language, must have been at school!" When I saw the R rated "Step Brothers", I was shocked to see 4 children seated in the front row with their parent (I'm assuming it was their Dad. He was a middle aged man). I would guess their ages between 6 & 12. Now if the trailers didn't clue you into how explicit this movie may be, the first 10 minutes should have! I kept expecting the father to take them out, but he didn't. I wish this was an isolated event, but I see it all the time. When I saw Rambo (pretty sure everyone knows what to expect there), there was a family of four seated in front of us. Their children were both under 4! The baby was terrified at the noise, but they never left!

Andrew D. Wells said...

I wonder is this some sort of effect in our society brought on by home entertainment. The television is so ever present in our society that parents just plop their kids in front of it or watch their own shows with their kids present, and never give any thought as to the content they are filling their children's head with. There used to be an idea that if it was on television it must be safe for everybody, but that notion has changed greatly over the past twenty years. That was the rule when our parents allowed us to watch television, but TV has changed in the intervening time since our generation had children of our own. But TV grew up with us and is not so suitable for our children any more. But our generation hasn't seemed to notice. Much of that apathy has spilled over into the movie going experience. And what's worse, its the filmmakers that get blamed for parents' inability to judge what is appropriate for their children.

Was that a rant?