Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Adam Scott, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins
Will Ferrell, Adam McKay
Your ability to enjoy "Step Brothers," the latest flick from the team of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, with newly favored sidekick John C. Reilly along for the ride, rests almost entirely upon your past ability to enjoy such Ferrell man-child flicks as "Talladega Nights," "Elf," "Old School" and others. If you enjoyed these films, then odds are you will find yourself consistently entertained by "Step Brothers." If, however, you find Ferrell's man-child shtick a bit old and tiresome then there's nothing in this film that will change your mind.
I count myself as a Ferrell fan, and while "Step Brothers" isn't his best work it is Ferrell doing what Ferrell does best...combining a man-child persona into a completely unrealistic storyline that goes way over-the-top and yet still manages to be a bit warm and fuzzy.
Ferrell excels at playing characters who do things that most of us would never have the balls to do, but they're such nice guys that it's impossible to hold any of it against them.
In "Step Brothers," Ferrell plays Brennan, a 39-year-old perpetual child who still lives at home with his mother (Mary Steenburgen, "Elf") for reasons that are only mildly explored. Brennan's mom meets a man, Dr. Doback (Richard Jenkins, "The Kingdom"), with his own 40-year-old son at home, Dale (John C. Reilly). The two single parents decide to get married and, of course, chaos ensues when the two households are combined.
Throw into the mix Brennan's highly successful older brother (Adam Scott, "The Great Buck Howard) and his perpetually frustrated wife (Kathryn Hahn, "Crossing Jordan") and you have the makings for a typical over-the-top, boundary pushing flick from Ferrell/McKay.
It would be difficult to summarize just how far over-the-top Ferrell goes with "Step Brothers" without giving away too many of the film's best scenes, but suffice it to say that "Step Brothers" contains everything from musical interludes to scrotal drumming to "Benchwarmers" style kid on adult violence to a music video that you will likely completely hate but completely unable to erase from your memory.
In other words, it's typical Ferrell.
From Ferrell's early days on "Saturday Night Live," he and McKay have been a solid gold comedy team. The two wrote together on SNL and have co-written "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights" while McKay also directed both films. McKay and Ferrell have a strong chemistry, and McKay seems to have a knack for catching the best of Ferrell, both improvised and staged, on film.
"Step Brothers," however, is a bit of a mixed bag. While the film is undeniably funny, at least for those who have consistently enjoyed Ferrell's brand of comedy, so much of the material in "Step Brothers" feels familiar that that laughs don't come quite as hard as they once did with Ferrell's earlier cinematic work. The film works best when it feels like Ferrell's improvising, and doesn't quite gel when the script feels like it's trying to force its way through Ferrell's typical pattern of lovable loser, merry mischief and redemptive warm and fuzzy ending with a slight twist.
Ferrell is solid here, but that should really come as no surprise. He's proven himself able to handle the man-child role time and again, and nothing in "Step Brothers" requires that he step outside that safety zone.
Reilly again confirms his comic gifts, more successfully than in his leading vehicle, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." As Dale, Reilly is the rougher of the two step brothers and he carries with him this look of perverse joy that instantly elicits giggles every single time he flashes it. While Dale isn't a particular stretch for the Oscar-winning Reilly, it's all the more enjoyable because he's so obviously having a blast with it.
Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins provide a nice balance to the outlandishness of their emotionally stunted kids, while Adam Scott is appropriately snotty as Brennan's over-achieving brother, Derek. Among the supporting players, Kathryn Hahn ("Crossing Jordan") is a scene-stealer as Derek's emotionally neglected, creatively libidinous wife. Andrea Savage ("The Cleaner") also does a nice job in an extended supporting role as a therapist for Brennan.
"Step Brothers" is one of those films that is impossible to rate highly, but impossible to not recommend. From a purely critical perspective, the film is funny but flawed. From the perspective of a moviegoer, however, "Step Brothers" is filled with giddy fun, lots of laughs and positive vibes that even though it's not Ferrell's best it's still a good time for all.
Perhaps serving as the perfect antidote to the heaviness of "The Dark Knight," "Step Brothers" serves up classic Ferrell humor in a story that will make you laugh and be thankful that this isn't your family.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic