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“Step Brothers”

by Bob Garver

            Some comedy characters only work in small doses.  Often you will hear this criticism on movies based on characters from “Saturday Night Live” sketches.  People will say, “They’re funny enough for a five-minute sketch, but an hour and a half is way too much.”  The characters in “Step Brothers” are the opposite of this.  If anything, they only work in large doses. 

The characters are named Brennan and Dale, and they are played by Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, respectively.  Don’t worry, you won’t need to keep track of which one is which.  Nor will you need to remember which one is the son of Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) and which one is the son of Robert (Richard Jenkins).  It may be helpful to remember that Brennan is the one with a brother named Derek (Adam Scott) who serves as the film’s villain.  But Brennan and Dale are essentially the same character. 

Roger Ebert once wrote that Beavis and Butt-Head (of a onetime popular MTV cartoon) were “one personality, split into two so that they will have someone to talk to.”  The same can be said of Brennan and Dale.  They start out as enemies (uncomfortable with the changes in their families), become friends (Dale punches out Derek, much to the delight of Brennan), and then become enemies again after a development late in the story.  At first, they are too immature to realize that they have so much in common.  But then again that immaturity is something that they have in common. 

Both are pushing 40 and still living at home with their parents.  Neither is driven to get a job or take any responsibility in their lives.  For the most part, neither of them act like they’re past the age of twelve.  This is annoying at first, but after about ten minutes the shock wears off and you can feel comfortable laughing.  This is why I said they only work in large doses. 

Some people may not feel like laughing at this movie at all.  It is filled with crude humor and filthy language.  One scene, involving a prized drum set, is particularly disgusting.  People who don’t enjoy this type of humor are advised to stay far away from “Step Brothers.”  The ads for the film are going to try and bring in kids and teens (a relatively clean gag involving a collapsing bunk bed is at the forefront), but don’t let them fool you.  The film is extremely raunchy.  Kids should sit this one out. 

That said, for people who can enjoy crude humor, “Step Brothers” is a wonderfully funny movie.  Adam McKay is the director, and he’s responsible for Will Ferrell’s best comedies with “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights.”  Judd Apatow is a producer, and he’s largely responsible for the reemergence of crude-but-hilarious comedy in the last few years.  “Step Brothers” may not have the heart or brains of his best movies, but its funny bone is as healthy as it can be. 

The biggest reason why “Step Brothers” works so well is the performances by Ferrell and Reilly.  They have plenty of energy, of course, but that’s only part of the reason.  The actors have done several movies together, but the characters’ first moments together are so believably awkward.  They make the obscene lines funny, but not funny because they are obscene.  And of course, they aren’t afraid of sacrificing their dignity to make the audience laugh. 

Ferrell and Reilly haven’t been doing very well on the comedy front lately.  Many of their fans want Reilly to get back to doing serious work, and Ferrell to stop screaming so much (they both do a lot of screaming in this film).  “Step Brothers” isn’t a real departure for either of them, it’s the same movie they usually do.  It just happens to be the funniest version yet. 

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