Step Brothers (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Step Brothers Poster

When did Will Ferrell stop being funny? It wasn't that long ago that this Saturday Night Live alum looked to be following in the footsteps of the likes of Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler but, somewhere along the way, Ferrell's train derailed. Now, once again paired with John C. Reilly, he tries so hard and with so little effect to make us laugh that the result is almost physically painful. Few films are worse to sit through than comedies that don't work. Step Brothers is one of those. Humor is subjective, but this movie made me feel as if I had been subjected to something unpleasant.

Step Brothers is a one joke concept: Ferrell and Reilly play 40-year old virgins who are little boys trapped in men's bodies. Mentally and emotionally, they're about eight years old and they act that way. That's pretty much the entire film - two grown men acting like kids. The concept is amusing for about two minutes. It's the kind of thing that might sound funny in a pitch meeting but, put into action, there's not enough laugh-generating material here to fill a bad SNL skit. And it's not as if the actors aren't trying. Ferrell and Reilly give it their all, and that's one reason it's so sad to see them fail so utterly. It's the proverbial slow-motion train wreck. Step Brothers is rude, crude, and profane, but not in a funny way. Jokes include discovering how Ferrell handles a situation when the toilet paper has run out, a testicle rub on a drum set, the world's longest fart, and other such side-splitting gags. ("Gag" sometimes being the operative word.)

The setup is simple. Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) meet and fall in love. They decide to get married, but each brings baggage to the new family. Nancy's son, Brennan (Will Ferrell), is a Mamma's Boy in the truest sense of the word. He has never cut the apron strings. Robert's son, Dale (John C. Reilly), is in a similar boat. His dad has been his gravy train. At first, the two new step brothers don't get along. Then, when they find a common enemy in Brennan's cocky, overachieving younger brother (Adam Scott), they bond. And when Mom and Dad decide to sell the house, it's time for Dale and Brennan to look to the future and try to get jobs and maybe find girlfriends.

The screenplay for Step Brothers is not completely devoid of intelligence, although it comes close. The moments of cleverness are sprinkled lightly throughout, and are threatened to be overwhelmed by the waste assailing them on all sides. The conclusion, which effectively sends up the "happy ending" syndrome of most comedies, is moderately amusing. Unfortunately, it's a case of too little, too late. Most of those who would care about the satirical bent of the epilogue will have tuned out or walked out long ago. The first 90 minutes of Step Brothers are so unpleasant that a tolerable final eight hardly makes up for the time wasted to get there.

Judd Apatow has his name on the film, but Step Brothers' failure in generating laughter or provoking us to care on any level about these two puerile, annoying characters, demonstrates that his reputation as a cinematic Midas of R-rated comedies is overrated. (No penises here, but there are testicles - does that count?) Apatow is only listed as a producer, not a writer. That credit goes to Ferrell and his longtime collaborator, Adam McKay, who also directs. Considering how ingrained Ferrell's fingerprints are on everything to do with this movie, it's impossible to exonerate him of the stench. Step Brothers is as big a misstep as this ex-SNL giant has taken.

Step Brothers (United States, 2008)

Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Andrea Savage
Screenplay: Will Ferrell & Adam McKay
Cinematography: Oliver Wood
Music: Jon Brion
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2008-07-25
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1