July 24, 2008

Step Brothers

Does anyone know the way to the Razzies?

Grade: C –
Director: Adam McKay Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins, and Adam Scott
MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

The essence of any good satire is its underpinning of truth. Last February, during a press junket in Chapel Hill, Will Ferrell took a few moments to forecast his then-upcoming film, Step Brothers, about two 40-year-old dolts still living at home with single parents who then get married, forcing the two men-children to become stepbrothers. “It's different in that it's not based on broad, over-the-top characters…It’s pretty grounded,” said Ferrell. “[The film] is our little way of saying that there are certain people out there who have a kind of righteous indignation. We all know people who say, ‘As soon as I get my welding degree, I'm going to get a job, but I'm NOT going to do that until I get my car fixed.’ We all have characters who are like that in our lives, so that's what we're playing around with there.”

Regrettably, Ferrell’s otherwise cogent assessment of Step Brothers’ underlying truth belies the woeful finished film product. Brennan (Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly) are exactly over-the-top characters who live in a state of such arrested development that they are utterly divorced from reality. The same goes for their long-suffering parents, Brennan’s mom Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) and Dale’s dad Bob (Richard Jenkins), who tolerate and even enable their emotionally retarded sons to an unhealthy degree.

But, why so serious? After, this is not only a Will Ferrell vehicle, but also the latest biweekly Judd Apatow production. However, without a viable satirical element, all the film leaves us is the quality of its gags. Unfortunately, they do not rise above the level of a post-Weekend Update Saturday Night Live sketch. Brennan and Dale waste their (and our) time hurling invectives at each other, most of them comprising a cacophony of F-bombs and scatology that lack any creativity or originality. The “plot,” using that term loosely, just sits there like a rickety edifice barely propping up Ferrell and Reilly’s aimless adlibbing.

A few scattershots, principally Reilly’s, hit their mark: Dale praises Brennan’s inexplicably lauded singing voice as “a combination of Fergie and Jesus”; during a job interview, Dale makes clear that he does not want any work that requires “sex with older women or bear traps” – “Those are my 2 bugaboos,” Reilly deadpans. Otherwise, there is not a redeemable character in the entire dysfunctional mess, including Brennan’s financially successful, douch bag of a younger brother, Derek (Adam Scott). Anytime there is the slightest lull in the action, someone tosses out some variation of “What the fuck?!” – even Steenburgen gets in on the act at one point.

This is Ferrell’s second consecutive R-rated comedy, and, notwithstanding his memorable turn in Old School, he does not wear them well. The lax content restrictions allow Ferrell to choose lazy shock humor – e.g., rubbing his testicles on Dale’s drum set (yes, you read that correctly) – instead of fashioning something more imaginative. We get a glimpse of the latter during the film’s climax, when Ferrell channels Andrea Bocelli with a rendition of “Con te partirĂ³.” Throughout the rest of Step Brothers, you will just find yourself wondering when it’s “time to say goodbye.”

Neil Morris

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