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Step Brothers

by Yoda
posted on 7/27/08
Somewhere between the Chewbacca mask and the appearance of testicles, it hits you: Step Brothers will do anything to try to make you laugh.

Of course, all comedies want to make you laugh, but most are only willing to go so far to make it happen. Logically, there comes a point where one’s dedication to the joke and one’s dignity come into conflict. At this point, most of us choose to preserve the latter rather than pursue the laugh, but there’s always someone willing to keep going. This movie was made by those types of people.

Directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby), Step Brothers is about two middle-aged professionals (Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins) who meet, fall in love, and marry. As it turns out, they both have roughly 40-year-old sons who refuse to leave the nest; Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly). They’re forced to live together and, like any two children living together, they quickly form a rivalry.

The two of them have a lot in common, so their hatred is short-lived. Before long, Brennan’s showing Dale his Samurai sword (signed by Randy Jackson, if you can believe that), and Dale’s showing Brennan his night vision goggles. They find a common cause in their mutual loathing of Brennan’s brother Derek and their mutual admiration of velociraptors, and eventually become best friends. Not that this has any effect on the level of chaos they produce.

This is the kind of film you suspect exists only because someone decided to turn a camera on. One can’t help but get the impression that there’s very little difference between what writers McKay and Ferrell do for fun, and what they do for a living; their movies are just those periods where somebody happened to be filming them.

Of course, just because they found it funny, it doesn’t mean you will, too. For every gag in Step Brothers that makes you laugh, there’s a gag that just makes you gag. This film is rated R for a reason, and it’s not just because of the cursing (though there’s plenty of that). Letting Ferrell off his PG-13 leash may have sounded like a good idea in theory, but looking back it was always his limitations that made him funny. Half the comedy of Anchorman came from watching the characters struggle to find ways to say extreme things without using extreme words. In Step Brothers, the only struggle is to do something more outrageous than they did in the scene before.

You wouldn’t see this movie for its story, but the absence of a decent plot is surprisingly conspicuous. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the films Judd Apatow actually writes (he merely produced Step Brothers), which always manage to smuggle some insight about its characters’ behavior between the craziness. Even insanity, it would seem, benefits from a little framework.

One undeniable virtue present in this film is that most of the people who see it will know what kind of comedy to expect. If you enjoyed the sagas of Messrs. Burgundy and Bobby (I did), it’s a safe bet you’ll enjoy a good deal of Step Brothers. Just don’t bring the kids.