Perhaps the R-rated comedy’s return isn’t so brief. Had it been released a mere two years ago, Step Brothers surely would have been neutered to suit the PG-13 crowd. Thank goodness it wasn’t, because the film is another pleasant surprise out of the Judd Apatow juggernaut. The majority of the gags, as crude as they can be, hit the mark and the interplay between Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly keeps the film from becoming a repetitive bore. While it does lose a bit of steam in the third act, fans of the stars and ribald comedy alike should be pleased.
Brennan Huff (Ferrell) and Dale Doback (Reilly) are both nearing forty, both unemployed, and both still live with their parents. And their parents are about to get married, making them step brothers. The marriage, between Brennan’s mother, Nancy (Steenburgen), and Dale’s father, Robert (Jenkins), forces the four to live together, and the feud between Brennan and Dale seems to be escalating by the day. Both act like immature teenagers, and the stress mounts for Nancy and Robert as both of them have had it with their sons’ freeloading.
From gross-out gags to strange perversion (see the wife of Brennan’s ultra-competitive, successful brother), Step Brothers delivers the status quo in terms of what we have come to expect from this resurgence of the adult comedy. The film’s success is driven by the fearlessness of Ferrell and Reilly, both of whom seem to realize that the wrapper around the story is pretty think. They have taken the notion of feuding step brothers as far as it can go, and payoffs come at an impressive clip. A scene in which the two construct a bunk bed out of bent 2×4’s and a hockey stick is one of the biggest laughs of the summer.
The aforementioned Ferrell and Reilly are a great comedic duo, particularly when matched in verbal arguments. Ferrell’s patented raised-voice delivery never fails to get laughs, but Reilly’s everyman demeanor makes for a superb foil. The supporting cast is stellar, especially Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins as the annoyed parents. Adam Scott is hilarious as Brennan’s arch-enemy of a brother and Kathryn Hahn turns in a truly perverse performance as Derek’s sexually frustrated wife.
Step Brothers delivers the kind of nonsensical laughs we expect at this time of the summer. There’s nothing groundbreaking or new on display, but anyone who’s been initiated to the Judd Apatow filmography will likely find something to enjoy. The film begins to lag in the third act, as a more mature and driven Brennan tasks himself with coordinating an event for his company. It’s never a good sign when a comedy must rely upon a five-minute musical performance as filler, but fortunately the movie never veers too far off course. Mindless comedy it delivers, and that’s what we need as the dog days of summer approach.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 95 Minutes
Rating: R for crude and sexual content, and pervasive language.
Theatrical Release: July 25, 2008
Directed by: Adam McKay
Written by: Will Ferrell & Adam McKay.
Cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Adam Scott, Mary Steenburgen, Kathryn Hahn, Andrea Savage