Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Step Brothers"

Even if "Step Brothers" is the least of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell's three collaborations (it's preceded by "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights"), it's also significantly funnier than about 85% of stupid comedies usually given to us and contains nary a scene where I didn't laugh at least once. Not all of it works -- I noticed quite a few more gags falling flat than in "Anchorman" or "Talladega" -- but fans of the Ferrell/McKay arsenal should be pleased as punch with the end result. It's a slightly darker, more free-form (not to mention significantly filthier) comedy than the previous films, and whether it's your cup 'o tea or not, one has to give the two comics credit for refusing to simply retread their past works, and continuing to have some of the weirder comedic sensibilities in mainstream filmmaking today. The movie tells the story of Brennan (Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly), two 40-year-old unemployed infants who still live at home with their single parents. When Brennan's mom (Mary Steenburgen) and Dale's dad (Richard Jenkins) marry, the two tornadoes of immaturity become step brothers and are forced to live under the same roof. The two initially violently loathe each other, but when they start to realize how much they have in common and become friends, things somehow get even more problematic for everyone.

Sure, we get lots of broad stuff, and much of it isn't particularly envelope-pushing or subversive, but part of what makes "Step Brothers" stand apart from the pack is the two actors play Brennan and Dale as guys whose tendencies alternation between sociopathic and downright autistic. This is not simply Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly playing man-children yet again; these guys are fucked up. They don't administer noogies or have petty arguments; they attempt to bury each other alive and rub their testicles on the other's most prized possession. The fucked-up-ness doesn't stop with the boys; there's an early-on scene with Brennan's douchebag brother Derek (Adam Scott) leading his family in a car ride sing-a-long of "Sweet Child O' Mine" that's very funny at first, and escalates to a point where it goes on long enough to become downright disturbing. The "happy" conclusion we reach at the end of the film is a mixture of hilarious and horrifying, and I wouldn't have it any other way. The film is at its best in moments like this (watch for the virile lumberjack) when it revels in the absurdity that made "Anchorman" a hallmark film and gives in to its more bizarre impulses. Reilly and Ferrell have an unassailable chemistry that actually has me interested in seeing what they would do if paired together in a different kind of work. They can play these roles in their sleep, but it's a testament to them that they never do, and give in totally in completely to their characters' idiocy, joy and vitrol all at once. But while this is being billed as the Ferrell and Reilly show, nearly everyone in the supporting cast gets their moment.

Jenkins, hot off his fourth Oscar-worthy performance in "The Visitor," cuts loose with an increasingly manic performance, and single-handedly generates some of the funniest moments in the movie; his (apparently 100% improvised) "dinosaur" monologue near the end of the film is particularly great. Scott gets perhaps the biggest showcase he's had in a movie so far, and while seeming to be intentionally aping Tom Cruise's mannerisms, he turns Derek into a hilarious cretin you love to despise. However, the movie truly belongs to Kathryn Hahn as Derek's put-upon wife who's sexually reawakened after Dale punches her overbearing husband in the face. Currently appearing on Broadway in "Boeing-Boeing," Hahn is a fairly brilliant physical comedienne (her genuinely shocking moment with a urinal is priceless) and has a pitch-perfect delivery that takes the movie up a notch whenever she's on screen. On top of R-rated gags and inspired strangeness, the movie actually has some interesting things to say, about parenting and what value being "sucessful" or "normal" has, if you bother to look for them. But at the end of the day, this is just a blissfully stupid, deranged time at the movies that will make you laugh more often than not.


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