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More of the Same for Ferrell and Reilly in Step Brothers

  • Stephen McGarvey Executive Editor
  • Updated Dec 05, 2008
More of the Same for Ferrell and Reilly in <i>Step Brothers</i>

DVD Release Date:  December 2, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  July 25, 2008
Rating:  R (for crude and sexual content, and pervasive language)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time:  95 minutes
Director:  Adam McKay
Cast:  Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hayn, Andrea Savage

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following review contains discussion of adult subject matter that is not appropriate for young readers.  Parents, please exercise caution.

As our summer movie season draws to a close, we have the latest superhero film to consider, Clueless Manboys 6. You know the one where our hero, the Will Ferrell character, mindlessly ambles his way through an assortment of life’s crazy problems without the intelligence of wet cement. Yet he still manages to save the world? That’s not right, you say? The film is actually called Step Brothers? And how did you miss Clueless Manboys 1-5?

Consider Elf (Clueless Manboy leaves his home with Santa Claus to try and find his dad in New York City), Anchorman (Clueless Manboy gets a job at a television station in the 1970s), Talladega Nights (Clueless Manboy drives race cars), Blades of Glory (Clueless Manboy learns to figure skate but also develops alcohol and anger management issues), and Semi-Pro (Clueless Manboy owns and plays on a professional basketball team). This shtick is Ferrell’s stock in trade. And now comes Step Brothers, where Clueless Manboy, a.k.a. Brennan Huff (Will Ferrell), has to share a house with another Clueless Manboy, Dale Doback (John C. Reilly). Who will reign supreme?

Not to say that Ferrell and Reilly are not good at this kind of comedy. These two guys can sell their charming obliviousness in practically any situation. There are certainly laugh out loud moments here, like when the Manboys dress up as a Nazi and a Klansman to keep potential homebuyers away. And the film benefits from Ferrell’s partnership with Director Adam McKay, who also directed Anchorman and Talladega.  Technically the quality is much better than the more recent Ferrell the Manboy outings. But unfortunately these films just continue to get raunchier and raunchier. Vulgarity is most often lazy comedy. It’s much harder to make people laugh with true wit. Step Brothers borrows heavily from the worldview of the recently popular Judd Apatow films, which seem to be on a mission to determine how much vulgar shock value they can get away with.

In this plot, if you can say a movie like this even has one, the Manboys aren’t placed in a contrived situation, they simply exist. Jobless, 39-year-old Brennan lives with his divorced mom Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) with no purpose in life beyond his existence as a foul-mouthed couch potato. Nancy decides to get married, she and Brennan move in with her new husband Robert (Richard Jenkins) and his son 40-year-old son Dale, also a shiftless manboy. As expected, the two “boys” instantly hate each other and find all sorts of ways to torture one another.

Eventually, having had enough of the brawling, the parents issue an ultimatum:  get jobs or else. Of course, having been enabled in this bad behavior for 20 years, Dale and Brennan have no real skills which leads to a ridiculous string of interviews for the two that only showcase their stupidity. The boys finally bond over a mutual hatred of Brennan’s egotistical younger brother Derek and a mutual love of actor John Stamos. Now fast friends they decide to start an entertainment business together, with predictable results.

Despite great performances by the leads, and Brennan’s and Dale’s completely believable goofiness, there is a mean-spiritedness about the film seen in some of the things they do to one another. To say nothing of the over-the-top crudity of it all. The Manboys eventually see how their immaturity is destroying their parents' marriage. In the end the message of the film leads to the predictable:  it’s really best if 40-year-olds act like men and not children. Follow your dreams but remember your responsibilities. If you are a Ferrell fan who can overlook the film’s flaws and ignore the non-stop coarseness, there may be some laughs here for you.  If not, the trashiness greatly overshadows the funny.

CAUTIONS:  Please note, there is almost more vulgarity in this film than can be catalogued. My notes below should be considered the highlights (or lowlights) and not a comprehensive list of cautions.

  • Language/Profanity:  Vulgar, cringe-inducing language in almost every scene. A great deal of crude sexual discussion. The Lord’s name taken in vain a few times.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Social drinking at dinner parties.
  • Violence:  Brennan and Dale get into several brawls and fist fights through out the film. The two brutally torture and pound on one another with various objects. They are at one point beat up by a group of grade school children who make them eat dog excrement. Later they return to exact their revenge and beat up the kids. Dale and Brennan sleepwalk and trash the house while doing so.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Nancy and Robert fall into bed together, undressing one another in a fit of passion. The scene cuts before there is any nudity. Brennan “defiles” Dale’s beloved drum set in a scene that involves male frontal nudity. Derek’s wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) hits on Dale in a scene that includes an extremely crude monologue. Later Dale and Alice have sex in a restaurant bathroom, no nudity shown but it still manages to be quite graphic. Brennan hits on his female therapist (Andrea Savage). She is later shown in racy underwear during a dream sequence. Pornographic magazines show up several times, while not showing any explicit nudity. Masturbation is the topic of several jokes.