Sunday, September 07, 2008

Review - Step Brothers

A few years after Judd Apatow had a hit with one 40 year-old virgin, here are two more from his comedy production line. In
Adam McKay's Step Brothers, Will Ferrell plays 39 year-old Brennan and John C Reilly is 40 year-old Dale; two adults who seem to possess the mentality of children a quarter of their ages. The pair are forced to co-habit when their parents (Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins) meet, fall in love, and marry within the first few minutes of the picture, and this is an arrangement that doesn't sit well with either overgrown man-child. That's the film's basic setup, and unfortunately Step Brothers doesn't appear to have undergone any kind of development since the pitch was dreamed up. When the expository opening credits have elapsed, the movie has nowhere to go.

We're left with almost two hours of Ferrell and Reilly acting like kids and smacking each other over the head with whatever blunt objects they can lay their hands on.
Step Brothers has no plot, no inspiration and no characterisation, which makes it a waste of its stars' considerable comic gifts. Ferrell and Reilly were great together in McKay's Talladega Nights, but their roles here give them nothing to play with. They're neither rooted in something recognisably human, nor eccentric enough to be memorable comic creations; they're just two oafs who keep shouting at each other. The two actors could have easily switched roles and it would barely make any difference to the film. I've already slated one Will Ferrell film this year, with Semi-Pro appearing back in February, but at least he had some kind of character in that film, and at least it had some semblance of a plot. In lieu of an actual story, Step Brothers just has an escalating set of incidents: Brennan rubs his testicles on Dale's beloved drums, and then Dale smashes him over the head with a cymbal; Dale pushes Brennan over the side of a boat, and then Brennan buries Dale alive. It's just one thing after another and it's astonishingly lazy, with the screenplay – that Ferrell co-wrote with McKay – often finding the cheapest possible gag on which to end the scene with, like Brennan licking dog shit, or a montage of job interviews climaxing with an overextended fart scene.

Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen, two fine actors, seem utterly lost in
Step Brothers, with the lack of characterisation doing them as few favours as it does for the central partnership. Adam Scott provides a rare bright spot, playing Brennan's real brother with ultimate superciliousness, and with so many strong performers involved, parts of Step Brothers are inevitably amusing. I laughed a lot at the scenes in which Dale and Brennan start sleepwalking simultaneously, and I liked Dale's overawed reaction to Brennan's angelic singing voice ("It's like a combination of Fergie and Jesus!" he exclaims), but these are isolated highlights in a very dull slog. Step Brothers is shocking waste of talent, and another misfire from Ferrell, who seems to scraping the bottom of the inspiration barrel right now. When I reviewed Semi-Pro, I described him as "the funniest actor currently working in American cinema", and I'm still tentatively standing by that statement, but I also said his basketball comedy "reeks of complacency", and Step Brothers smells even worse.