Step Brothers

Director    Adam McKay
Starring    Will Ferrell, John C Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins, Adam Scott
Release    25 AUG (US) 29 AUG (UK)    Certificate 15
3 stars


28th August 2008

There is literally zero chance of anyone walking into Step Brothers and not knowing what to expect. Here are your dead give-aways. Will Ferrell. John C Reilly. Anchorman director Adam McKay. Yes, Step Brothers is basically a free reign for the curly-haired duo to act like screaming man-children, free from the constraints of story or character or logic - think Talladega Nights without the NASCAR or Anchorman without the news. It's a typical Ferrell vehicle, cruising steadily on Apatow-produced auto-pilot. But you expected that, right? You probably already know if you'll go and see it, so this review is essentially just a waste of bandwidth. But for the handful of Ferrell fans that reached a tipping point with the woefully underwhelming Semi-Pro, I'll continue.

The story is gleefully simplistic and quickly established before the opening credits have ended. Dr Richard Doback (Richard Jenkins) and Nancy Huff (Steenburgen) meet at a convention, fall in love, marry and move in with one another. The only baggage they bring is their middle-aged children; his son Dale (Reilly) and her son Brennan (Ferrell). First, the new step-brothers wage war on one another in the most childish and puerile ways possible. Then they team up and become friends. Then they hate each other again. That's pretty much it.

Step Brothers actually represents the best and worst of Will Ferrell et al in one sloppy package. The laughs might be cheap, but they're effective - the sight of Reilly excitedly running down a corridor in just his Y-fronts, Ferrell wiping his nut-sack on his rival's prized drum-kit, the brothers' self-explanatory rap video entitled 'Boats 'N' Hoes'. There's some real gold here: the sleep-walking scene is probably the funniest thing I've seen all year (just me?), while the post-credits beatdown ends the movie on a hugely satisfying belly-laugh. These are two genuinely funny guys doing what they love - Reilly, who looks more and more like a shaved ape every day, is gifted with comedy in his DNA, and Ferrell knows this kind of low-rent routine like the back of his hand.

Conversely, the high points are tempered with the kind of lazy back-and-forth that was almost the downfall of Ricky Bobby - saggy improv, unimaginative insults ("I'm going to punch/kick/bite you in the mouth/face/balls" etc.) and heinous overuse of the word 'vagina'. Some scenes feel completely out of context (sure to be remedied on an 'Extended Edition' DVD, no doubt) and editing is a little shoddy. It feels a little more ramshackle than Talladega Nights - that tried too hard, this perhaps doesn't try hard enough. All the gags that hit are really in-built into the characters/actors (indistinguishable as they are) and not the script itself.

Quality dips and peaks throughout, but you're never more than a few minutes away from the funny - thankfully Step Brothers runs at a mercifully brief 95 minute run-time. The supporting cast stop the movie from flagging; Jenkins plays exasperated well, Steenburgen gets to say 'fuck' lots (and looks like she enjoys it) and Adam Scott makes a delightfully oily douchebag younger brother that Dale and Brennan can unite in hating (his a capella version of 'Sweet Child Of Mine' is a particular highlight). Obviously though, Ferrell and Reilly are the real draws here and they make a great double act, whether taking lumps out of each other or becoming best friends in the movie's sweetest section ("Best night EVER!").

So, Step Brothers is unashamedly dumb, unoriginal and downright offensively childish. But aren't these the very same reasons why people like these movies? Even when coasting, Ferrell and friends are still funnier than 90% of other comedians currently working, and seem happy to churn out these half-arsed spite-coms for fans of their filth-flavoured fun. If you're still sitting on the fence, then give them the benefit of the doubt: this one-trick pony is still worth the occasional ride. Ali

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