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  Step Brothers

Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Peter Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen
Directed by: Adam McKay
Produced by: Judd Apatow, Jimmy Miller

Written by: Adam McKay & Will Ferell (screenplay & story), John C. Reilly (story)
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing


     Welcome back to the realm of effective comedy, Will Ferrell! After two disastrously unfunny sports-parodies (Semi-Pro and Blades of Glory) and one undercooked dramedy (Stranger than Fiction), you have finally come to redeem yourself. After all, it’s about time; for being considered one of the funniest men in Hollywood (if not the premier comic actor), you sure were in quite a slump there. It’s good to see you return to form with Step Brothers, Mr. Ferrell.

     But enough with the imaginary conversation-making. Maybe I’ll write an entire letter-review to Ferrell when Bucket Reviews becomes popular enough for him to actually have a chance at reading it, but until then it’s much easier to keep things on third-person terms. Nonetheless, my point remains the same: Step Brothers marks something of a homecoming for the actor after a near-two-year dry spell. And what a return it is: the movie represents pure Ferrell – bombastic, outrageous, silly, and just plain wonderful.

     With that all being said, it may come across as odd that my praise for Ferrell stops there. Yes, the gifted comedic actor owns every frame of Step Brothers that he appears in, but he’s hardly the primary reason for the movie’s success. After all, Ferrell is essentially here playing a cuddlier version of Jackie Moon from Semi-Pro and a less-talented version of Chazz Michael Michaels from Semi-Pro (and so on and so forth). Funny as the guy is, his talent is characterized by acting as outrageously as possible in different versions of the same persona. He is equally as wacky and as hyperbolic in every performance he commits himself to, always walking a very fine line between effectiveness and ineffectiveness.

     I don’t think Ferrell is really responsible for what side of the aforementioned line a given performance falls under, either. Instead, the energy around him does. His outlandish, unrestrained style feeds upon the talent he works with and, in Step Brothers’ case, said talent points Ferrell’s gifted comic abilities in all the right directions.

     Much of the movie’s success rests in its funny, inspired premise. Ferrell plays Brennan Huff, a forty-plus year-old man who still lives at home with his mother, Nancy (Mary Steenburgen). Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) is in the same position: he’s an out-of-work, middle-aged couch-potato who depends on his father (Peter Jenkins) to bring home the Bread. Chaos erupts, however, when Nancy and Dale connect on a date (largely due to their shared, peculiar little family-dynamic), get married, and move in together. Brennan and Dale don’t quite get along—in typical seven-year-old-minded fashion—now having to compete for the affections of their parents with their new housemates. On top of it all, their new parents—each of the two now provided a partner to reinforce their opinions—are pushing hard for them to find jobs and potentially move out of the house. Sooner than later, the two come to realize that they have more in common than they originally thought—laziness and near-retardation being the two main traits shared—and team up to wildly funny results.

     The real marvel of Step Brothers is the work of longtime Ferrell-collaborator Adam McKay. As Ferrell’s co-writer and director on the film, McKay knows exactly what boundaries Ferrell’s performance should respect, understanding when his lead actor is effective and when he goes overboard. As a result, the Ferrell-jokes that work can be savored by the audience because they aren’t drowned out by a sea of unfunny attempts to fill time, as was the case in Semi-Pro and Blades of Glory. Step Brothers—partly due to its hard R-rating—is consistently hilarious, with two of the best comedic scenes of the decade so far. (Without giving too much away, one involves a certain anatomical part touching a drumset and the other showcases Ferrell’s opera-singing abilities.)

     But McKay and Ferrell’s brains aren’t the only ones that were dedicated to the cause of crafting a consistently-ingenious motion picture. I would be committing a small crime if I were to chalk the movie’s success solely up to McKay and Ferrell; they represent only half of the equation. Just as daring and hysterical is Ferrell’s co-star, John C. Reilly, who approaches the role of Dale in just the right way, giving the character enough of an edge to crudely contrast with Brennan but enough geekiness to embrace his newfound step-brother come the movie’s second-act turnaround. While Reilly may not be afforded as outlandish or as show-offish of bits as Ferrell is—notice that the two standout passages mentioned above are credited to his co-star—he still provokes a great deal of laughter. And combined, the two actors share comic-chemistry that is every bit as good (while 1,000,000 times cruder) as that of a great cinematic buddy-pairing such as, say, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

     Also of note is the work of Peter Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen, who don’t have any uproariously funny moments of their own, but provide strong support for their more-boisterous co-stars. The two veteran actors thankfully ignore the opportunity to imbue any unnecessary emotion in their characters, rightly choosing to depict them as naïve individuals rather than sappy, compassionate parents who long to help their aching children. In other words, Jenkins and Steenburgen accept that their characters shouldn’t be in the limelight of the picture and don’t overplay them, instead merely offering solid comedic footing on which Ferrell and Reilly are able to springboard as much gleeful tomfoolery as possible.

     In the end, the movie’s material doesn’t really leave room for the narrative to enter a realm of greatness—what recent comedy’s has?—but it does lend to a fun time at the multiplex. (It’s also worth nothing that the movie ends a three picture slump for producer Judd Apatow; hopefully his soon-to-be-released Pineapple Express will continue the upward trend.) Rounding out the month of July, the jovial Step Brothers represents a great way for mainstream moviegoers to recover from the epic nature of The Dark Knight, the tiring mythology of Hellboy II, the eye-straining 3-D of Journey to the Center of the Earth, and the crappy third-act twist of Hancock. Inconsequential summer blockbusters don’t get much better than this one.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 7.22.2008

Screened on: 4.9.2008 at the AMC Burbank 16 in Burbank, CA.


Step Brothers is rated R and runs 95 minutes.

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