Will Ferrell as Brennan Huff
John C. Reilly as Dale Doback
Mary Steenburgen as Nancy Huff
Richard Jenkins as Dr. Robert Doback
Adam Scott as Derek
Kathryn Hahn as Alice
Andrea Savage as Denise
Lurie Poston as Tommy
Elizabeth Yozamp as Tiffany
Logan Manus as Chris Gardoski
Directed by Adam McKay
The second pairing of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly takes a more organic approach to comedy than “Talladega Nights” but ultimately, delivers a far more satisfying often gut-splitting movie.
Brennan Huff (Will Ferrell) and Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) are 40-year-old guys still living with their single parents (Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins) but when the two adults meet, fall in love and get married, the two guys are forced to look for jobs and try to get along with each other or risk being thrown out on their own.
By this point, we all probably think we know exactly what we can expect from a Will Ferrell comedy and there’s plenty of that in “Step Brothers,” his third film collaboration with director Adam McKay and second pairing with John C. Reilly. This time, they decided to go balls out (quite literally) with an R-rating that isn’t just there to unleash one “F”-word after another, instead allowing them to play with some raunchier humor without worrying about having to hold themselves back. Unlike so many comedies, the funniest jokes aren’t in the commercials, because most of them wouldn’t be allowed on television.
You probably can’t get much higher concept than two 40-year-old guys living with their parents and acting like big children, always refusing to grow up, and a lot of the first act of the movie involves them being suspicious of their new sibling, quarrelling and finally, getting into an insane brawl. Eventually, they realize that they have common immature interests including a shared hatred for Brennan’s overachieving younger brother (Adam Scott), but they’re even more trouble acting together as the best of friends, continuing to destroy their poor parent’s house.
A number of other comedies have explored the nature of man-children, those guys who never grow up and are still living with their parents. You wouldn’t think there could be a whole movie within that idea, but with “Step Brothers,” we learn how limitless the possibilities there are for laughs based on such a simple premise. Ferrell and co-writer McKay certainly take the idea much further than the truly abysmal “Failure to Launch,” finding more of a kindred spirit with producer Judd Apatow’s “40-Year-Old Virgin.” Granted, Steve Carell’s character in that was at least responsible enough to live on his own and there was far more realism to the characters and situations whereas Ferrell and Reilly deliberately take things overboard and to outlandish heights, making it one of Ferrell’s stranger offerings.
Even without the crutch of NASCAR and big set pieces to win over audiences, the results are funnier than “Talladega Nights.” Sure, there’s a lot of the similar dumb physical humor we’ve come to expect, but they’ve created better characters at the movie’s core, and the laughs come fast and furious as they wisely change things up with different kinds of laughs rather than running the same recurring gags into the ground until they grow stale. For instance, the guys’ strange habit of destructive sleepwalking, something which seems stupid the first time we see them trashing the kitchen in one of those states, but that gag’s callback later could possibly be one of the funniest scenes in the movie. (In some ways, they seem to have taken a cue from indie comedies like the movies made by members of “The State” that don’t try and force laughs by catering to overused comedy cliches.)
Unlike “Talladega” where Reilly was more of Ferrell’s sidekick, this is a true two-hander as the duo split up the funniest lines and as with “Walk Hard,” Reilly proves that he can deliver laughs just as well as the more experience comic and he’s able to hold his own. The true key to the film’s success is the terrific supporting cast that takes some of the pressure off Ferrell and Reilly to provide all of the laughs. You couldn’t get more perfect casting than the always-great Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen as Dale and Brennan’s exasperated parents, even if Steenburgen seems kind of young to have a middle-aged son. Jenkins is a natural as Dale’s father, who was fine putting up with one son who can’t grow up but finally throws in the towel and gives the two troublemaker twins an ultimatum. Adam Scott, the smarmy male nurse from “Knocked Up,” is just as funny and obnoxious as Brennan’s over-achieving younger brother, the perfect foil that constantly makes Brennan look bad, as is Kathryn Hahn as his sex-starved wife who takes a creepy fancy to Dale.
As easy as it might have been to follow a predictable plot trajectory in trying to get Brennan and Dale to grow up and act responsibly, there’s enough surprises to deliver a satisfying conclusion even if the movie ends exactly where it’s expected.
The Bottom Line:
If you have an aversion to Will Ferrell’s comedy schtick, “Step Brothers” might not completely change your mind, but pairing him with so many great character actors, including the returning Reilly, is a step in the right direction and it insures that things never get dull. The results are so full of non-stop laughs that you can only imagine what had to be cut to keep the movie at a reasonable length. Seriously, if this movie doesn’t make you laugh, you might want to give up on comedy altogether.