Review: “Step Brothers” (2008)

There will be two distinct reactions to Adam McKay’s “Step Brothers”: the guffaws of people who think two 40-something men acting like prepubescent boys is hysterical and the horrified silence of those who think that’s painfully idiotic. Anyone who belongs to the latter camp should not see “Step Brothers,” which delights in juvenile humor — the juvenile-er, the better. This is a movie where a pre-teen bully opens a full can of whoop-ass on the 6’3″ Will Ferrell, then makes him eat a petrified dog turd.

If your heart leapt at “petrified dog turd,” read on, kindred spirit. “Step Brothers” is a smörgåsbord for fans of scatalogical/penis/fart humor, all-out absurdity, inventive one-liners like “Holy Santa Claus shit!” and wild pratfalls. That’s because of the magic that happens when Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly show up on the same set. There have been a few genuinely great comic duos in history, and Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are one of them. Apart, they’re certainly capable comedians, but together? Together they’re a lit stick of TNT. Bank on an explosion; just don’t think you can predict when it will happen or what the fallout will be. It’s that element of surprise that makes Reilly and Ferrell so very good together.

Toss some funny actors like Rob Riggle and Richard Jenkins into that mix, and that’s a recipe for one cookie sheet full of great comedy. Dale (Reilly), who lives with his widowed father Robert (Jenkins) and Brennan Huff (Ferrell), still crashing at his mother Nancy’s (Mary Steenburgen) house, are two adults living the carefree lives of 9-year-old boys. They are a pair of jobless freeloaders united, suddenly and unhappily, by their parents’ marriage. Forced to live in the same house (and, to maximize awkwardness, the same bedroom), Dale and Brennan strike up a hellacious and raucous rivalry. Dale calls Brennan and his mom “hillbillies”; Brennan threatens to fill a pillowcase with bars of soap and beat Dale senseless; and down it spirals from there. All the hatred comes to a head when Brennan tea-bags Dale’s prized drumset, culimating in a fierce brawl and the priceless moment where Steenburgen lets loose a string of F-words. Eventually Dale and Brennan form a fragile alliance, mostly in opposition of their parents’ insistence that they find jobs and move out. Ferrell and Reilly’s inventive job interview sabotage – wearing tuxedoes; farting loudly; arguing over the correct pronunciation of “Pam” with one interviewer — are some of the funniest in the movie.

Since “Step Brothers” follows a somewhat traditional romantic comedy (or bromance, more like) storyline, Dale and Brennan’s bond must be broken so they can be reunited. One of the dividing forces is Derek “I Haven’t Had a Carb Since 2004″ Huff (Adam Scott), Brennan’s rich and insufferable brother. He’s determined to sell Robert and Nancy’s house so they can retire early, and he’s plainly delighted when Brennan and Dale turn on each other. (This is the kind of brother who’d interrupt your solo at the high school talent competition to announce that you have “a mangina,” then win it by lip-synching “Ice Ice Baby.”) Scott is but one of many side-splitting parts of this crackerjack ensemble cast. Riggle is another, stealing scenes left and right as Derek’s beserk right-hand “POW!” man Randy. Jenkins, a terrific character actor, gets to run amok of his usual sedate roles with physical comedy, and he has a fine time doing it. Kathryn Hahn is kooky and chuckle-worthy as Alice, Derek’s resentful wife who puts Dale squarely in the crosshairs of her lunacy. She wants to roll Dale in a little ball and shove him up her vagina. “No” means nothing to Alice; in another life, she was likely a rapist. 

In spite of all the hijinks, though, “Step Brothers” has an undercurrent of poignancy that might catch the observant off guard. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Dale and Brennan may be the poster children for arrested development, but their childlike refusal to give up on their crazy dreams is endearing. And let’s just say that it takes a special gift to make two grown men beating up a jeering kid bully seem like a triumph worth cheering for.

Grade: B+

9 Responses

  1. did you have a change of heart on this one since you commented on my review of it?

    http://nothatwascompliment.wordpress.com/2009/07/23/step-brothers-2008/

    • Indeed I did. I don’t know what my problem was in 2009 … I was so young and foolish back then. Maybe I was trying to look all serious and film critic-y.

      Though I admit that I did not like “Step Brothers” much the first time I saw it, it grew on me. Or I got over myself. One of those two.

      • well, i only saw it the one time, but i can’t imagine i’d find the first half any funnier if i saw it again. but i did think the second half was much better.

  2. I haven’t seen this yet but I kind of want to. it seems like a guilty-pleasure kind of movie though! :-) BTW I love your blog and I really appreciate your commenting on mine!

  3. When I first saw the film. I wasn’t sure what to think of it. Then I saw it again, I started to enjoy it. I love it even more as my favorite part is the entire Catalina Wine Mixer set w/ the 80s Billy Joel tribute band.

    “80s Billy Joel doo-wop sucks!”

  4. It’s fun, dumb fun, but fun nonetheless. I love Richard Jenkins’ trapped-in-my-own-inner-hell demeanor.

  5. I have really grown to love this movie. It definitely has more than its fair share of flaws and it grows a bit tiresome at the two-third mark but there is so many priceless moments and Ferrell/Reilly is just a pure genius comedic duo.

    • @ Marie — Give it a go. You won’t be sorry. Well, you might be like me and not like “Step Brothers” at first. But it will grow on you … kind of like a fungal infection, only funnier.

      @ Steven — “F**king Catalina Wine Mixer.”

      @ Fitz — Richard Jenkins can do no wrong. I’m convinced of this.

      @ Castor — Yeah, it doesn’t get better than Ferrell and Reilly together. They’re so good together because their insults are wildly creative. You never know what’s coming.

  6. Gets better with every viewing! And I have a whole new appreciation for “Shark Week”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers

%d bloggers like this: