Step by step
Step Brothers has no real plot, and it generally beats a one-joke premise to death over the course of its running time. Normally, that would be the start of a negative review, but that one joke is a funny one and works as a fairly good setup for the comedic duo of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. The Talladega Nights actors (along with that film’s director, Adam McKay) return for their latest exercise in silliness, and while the results aren’t as consistent, they’re still funny.
Ferrell and Reilly play Brennan and Dale respectively, two men reaching 40 who still live with their single parents. The cantankerous Brennan lives with his mom (Mary Steenburgen), while the irritable Dale resides with his dad (the great Richard Jenkins). Brennan and Dale become stepbrothers when their parents meet and marry after a short romance. Due to Dale refusing to give up a room devoted to his hallowed drum set, the two must bunk together, and infantile, ultra-vulgar hilarity ensues.
The two don’t get along all that much at the start, they threaten to kill each other in their sleep and get into a huge brawl on their front lawn, a fight where Brennan’s mom sadly witnesses her son using his BICYCLE as a weapon. (That’s my nod to the bicycle theme of this week’s issue … Happy Bicycle Week, everybody!) The two kick the shit out of their house while sleepwalking, and Brennan rubs his “hairy ballsack” on Dale’s drum kit. Dad gets fed up and demands that they seek jobs, which leads to a funny interview sequence where Dale literally blows a job opportunity out of his ass.
The two end up bonding after a tree house incident involving Brennan’s bratty brother (a very funny Adam Scott), and this leads to a classic scene involving pumpkin smashing and bunk beds. While the two getting along is still funny, the film works best when the boys are at odds, so McKay is always finding ways for the two of them to get angry again.
There is a subplot where the boys try to form some sort of strange entertainment conglomerate that involves rap videos. They show a reasonable amount of inspiration along the way but manage to ruin Dad’s retirement plans when they cause severe damage to some personal property. This catastrophe is actually documented in their debut single video, “Boats ‘n’ Hos.” The aftermath gives Jenkins a chance to take his comedic chops to a new level, playing a near nervous breakdown with the best of them.
Reilly, who until recently was primarily known as a supporting dramatic actor, is really starting to shine as a lead comedic star. If Ferrell is the best movie comedian when it comes to playing a man-boy, Reilly takes a close second. The two really do come off as adolescents trapped in middle-aged bodies. They’ve done this shtick before, and I’m hoping they’ll do it again. The two pretty much match each other pound for pound with the laugh factor, and they truly are the best comedic duo currently at work today.
Based on Ferrell and McKay’s track record—they also did Anchorman—this film comes with high expectations. Despite some good hard laughs, the movie does suffer from some dry spots and more than its fair share of clunkers. Ferrell and Reilly manage to keep things moving forward, even when the bits are producing something more along the lines of silent stares than guffaws.
If the idea of Ferrell and Reilly wrestling and having various kinds of swordfights doesn’t appeal to you, and you aren’t a fan of Talladega Nights, you might want to skip this one. If the sight and sound of Ferrell singing “Por Ti Volare” with Reilly accompanying on drums seems appealing, then you’ll probably have fun. As for me, the duo offers up enough good humor to make the movie worthwhile, but I expect a little more out of these guys.