Step BrothersDirected by Adam McKayStarring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins and Mary SteenburgenRated R*5.5*
Goes well with: Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Semi-ProThe comedic combo of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, along with director Adam McKay, was a smashing success in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, the 2006 NASCAR comedy—so much so that the trio collaborated on the story for Step Brothers, with Ferrell and McKay going on to write the screenplay. But this feels less like a story than just an amusing idea, having Reilly and Ferrell, two very funny guys, acting like pubescent 15-year-olds.
Brennan (Ferrell) is 39 and lives with his mom, Nancy (Mary Steenburgen). Dale (Reilly) is 40, and still living with his dad, Robert (Richard Jenkins). When the elders get hitched, Brennan and Nancy move in with Dale and Robert, and suddenly both guys have to contend with having a step brother. They're rivals at first, desperately trying to show each other up in front of their respective parents. Until they become best friends, kindred spirits in unemployment and leeching.
Step Brothers is indeed funny. And way raunchy. It benefits from its R-rating, because it means anyone can say “fuck” at any time. It means dog poop can be licked, testicles can be shown, masturbation can be discussed. It means Farrell and Reilly can go seriously medieval on each other's ass. It is terribly hysterical, nasty shit. But wait, you're thinking, that all sounds pretty juvenile. And you're right. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that, except that Step Brothers ends up being a movie for boys who aren't old enough to get into R-rated movies.
Step Brothers' main problem is this: Where do you go once you've established that your main characters are two developmentally stunted grown men. Must they eventually set aside their childishness and act their age? Sure, and to the movie's credit, it recognizes that there's something tragic about these man-children becoming man-men. But the movie doesn't recognize that it isn't really that tragic. Most of us were forced to do our own laundry, pay our own taxes and buy our own toilet paper 20 years before Dale and Brennan. So, when it's time to feel sorry for two narcissistic, self-absorbed, irresponsible jerks, it's hard to. Look, it probably sounds like I'm taking Step Brothers too seriously. I'm not. You shouldn't go to this thinking it's anything but R-rated humor.
Steenburgen and Jenkins are a pair of wily veterans who bring—well, not dignity to the affair, but a slight sense of adulthood. Adam Scott is a great deal of fun as Derek, Brennan's asshole of a younger brother, and Kathryn Hahn steals every scene she's in as Alice, Derek's wife, who hates her life and takes an immediate sexual interest in Dale, her husband's new stepbrother. And Seth Rogen has a short, sharp cameo.
But one good joke does not a movie make, and the level of satire that made Talladega Nights and Anchorman, the previous Ferrell/McKay joint and the favorite film of San Diego media, just isn't present here. It's more like Superbad with adults, except that Superbad had a destination: Two great friends go their separate ways after graduation. Step Brothers doesn't rise to the same level. Funny, oh yes, but when it tries to be serious, it's tough, because what we want is another nasty, extended fart joke. Call Step Brothers the redheaded stepchild of the bunch.