Step away from "Step Brothers"

July 28, 2008, midnight | By Deepa Chellappa | 13 years, 10 months ago

A virtually plotless movie delivers nothing but tastelessness

America has seen funnier and deserves better than yet another story of a dysfunctional family, this time with two middle-aged losers-turned-brothers who refuse to grow up. "Step Brothers" stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, both of whom have considerable talent and chemistry on screen (think "Talladega Nights", "Anchorman" and "Walk Hard"). Their usual hilarity only raises our expectations. But as stepbrothers, the duo is a disappointment. The plot is tiring and thin, the story is old and the movie is ultimately a collection of juvenile jokes focusing on fart, vomit and other exploits best left in the bathroom - much like the film itself.

The plot is non-existent, a fact that is weakly camouflaged by never-ending profanity and constant references to body parts, bodily functions and sickening sexual acts. Ferrell plays Brennan, a man-child of 39 who lives with his mother Nancy (Mary Steenburgen), and Reilly plays Dale, 40, who lives with his father Robert (Richard Jenkins). Their lives change drastically - considering their normal lethargy - when Nancy and Robert meet at a medical conference, get married, and attempt to bring their families together under the same roof. Brennan and Dale are originally suspicious of one another and argue profusely (enter several interesting variations of the f-word) before discovering some common ground, initially based on a mutual hatred of Brennan's blowhard younger brother Derek (Adam Scott).

The movie's main fault is that Dale and Brennan are essentially the same person, causing the already stale concept to grow even more repetitive. There is no opportunity for conflict after the two forge their brotherly bond. Furthermore, most gags are either redundant or forced. A joke about Dale's obsession with his drum set recurs far too often, and Derek, who is hilarious at first with his macho attitude and huge ego, quickly overstays his welcome.

In terms of vulgarity, "Step Brothers" pushes the limits of R-rated humor. The main characters speak in streams of profanity and certain scenes of explicit nudity are completely unnecessary—especially a particularly foul bit involving Ferrell's private parts (perhaps prosthetic) rubbed onto one of Dale's prized snare drums. It's the type of immature, crass humor that producer Judd Apatow is known for, but he should consider whether the gags will evoke laughter or actual gagging.

In general, Ferrell's antics are exhausting. Almost every one of his recent movies has showcased him nude, yelling obscene insults at the top of his lungs. It makes one harken back to the good old days of an elf of ungainly size in search of his true identity.

To be fair, there are some actually funny bits. Dale's fear of a local gang of 12-year-olds who haunt the playground near his house is amusing, as is Derek's wife's repeated attempts to seduce Dale. A scene at a family dinner has its moments as well, but the majority of chuckles will come from Ferrell and Reilly's love for the finer aspects of life: Ho-Hos, "Star Wars," velociraptors and, of course, pornographic magazines.

Unfortunately, as the story continues, the movie comes to a grinding halt. The final half-hour of the film takes place at a fashionable wine tasting party that Brennan has arranged to impress his family. The ending is flimsy, clearly staged to tie up the loose ends of what little plot there is. And after spending nearly an hour making fun of the brothers' immaturity, the movie ends by praising it, suggesting that the only alternative to being stuck in the teen years is a dull, conformist adult life.

That "Step Brothers" winds up slightly more tolerable than the story line suggests is a testament to the comedic skills of Ferrell and Reilly. They are well-suited to their roles, but the movie does them little justice. At 93 minutes, the film grows tiresome quickly, especially considering that it could easily fit into a three-minute time slot on "Saturday Night Live." If "Step Brothers" generates big bucks at the box office, it will truly mean the end of quality comedy in Hollywood.

"Step Brothers" (93 minutes) is rated R for crude and sexual content and pervasive language. Now playing everywhere.

Deepa Chellappa. The high point of Deepa's life thus far occurred when she waved to Mickey Mouse at a Disney World parade and he blew her a kiss in return. Needless to say, she hates Minnie with a passion. In her free time, Deepa can be found … More »

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