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Overall Rating
3.54

Awesome: 4.88%
Worth A Look51.22%
Average: 39.02%
Pretty Bad: 2.44%
Total Crap: 2.44%

5 reviews, 11 user ratings


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Step Brothers
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Misfits"
4 stars

There are exactly two ways in which the typical viewer can possibly respond to “Stepbrothers,” the raunchy new comedy reuniting the creative trio of star Will Ferrell, director Adam McKay and producer Judd Apatow, whose previous collaborations included the hit films “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights.” The first is to observe that it is a crude, silly, vulgar and barely coherent shambles of a film and then dismiss it for those reasons. The second is to observe that it is a crude, silly, vulgar and barely coherent shambles of a film and then embrace it for those very same reasons. For maybe the first half-hour or so, I found myself squarely in the first camp and deemed the film to be an ungodly waste of time that was little more than a blatant retread of the brilliant and tragically short-lived Chris Elliott sitcom “Get a Life” that lacked the show’s subtle wit and sophistication. After a while, though, something about its relentlessly nitwit charms began to click with and I found myself slowly but surely slipping into the second camp. It may not be the most sophisticated film around but every once in a while, you need an unabashedly juvenile goof to sort of clear the pipes and this one gets the job done, especially when you compare it to the jaw-dropping dreck that was “The Love Guru.”

As the film opens, divorcees Dr. Robert Doback (Richard Jenkins) and Nancy Huff (Mary Steenburgen) meet at a business conference and are so compatible with each other that they become man and wife before the end of the opening credits. It turns out, however, that they have something else in common besides similar professions and a shared yearning to spend their retirements sailing around the world. It seems that each one is the not-so-proud parent of a 40-year-old man-child who has yet to leave the nest--Nancy’s is Brennan (Ferrell) and Robert’s is Dale (John C. Reilly). These are not allegedly adorable cases of arrested adolescence of the type that Matthew McConaughey has made a cottage industry out of portraying. These two are crude, lazy, self-centered dolts who have been so coddled by their overly doting parents that they are completely unable to function at even the simplest adult tasks--that is, they would be unable to function at those tasks if they ever developed enough ambition to attempt them in the first place. Instead, they prefer sitting on the couch and eating junk food while making sure that no one else plays with their toys. Let me put it as delicately as possible--although the film manages to heroically restrain itself from showing us any details (one of the few sights that it does spare us from), I suspect that on the rare occasions when Brennan and Dale do get around to cleaning their underwear, it takes a couple of times through the washing machine to get them completely clean.

As with most kids who are suddenly jammed together into an instant family when their parents get married, Brennan and Dale hate each other at first sight and try to make each others lives as miserable as possible--things come to an especially ugly head when Dale’s precious drum set is defiled by Brennan in a spectacularly repulsive manner--but after bonding over their shared loathing of Brennan’s smarmy younger brother , Derek(Adam Scott), they become best buddies. By this time, however, Robert has gotten fed up with both of them and demands that they get jobs within 30 days or they will be thrown out for good. After a couple of spectacularly failed job interviews, the two hit upon a sure-fire business proposition but while putting together a presentation video for investors, they inadvertently destroy Robert’s retirement dream, a move that causes enough tension to drive an insurmountable wedge between their parents that leads to their divorce. Crushed and feeling guilty at their part in the separation (though each one is convinced that the other is more responsible), they decide to straighten up and fly right by finally getting real jobs and becoming responsible adults in the hopes of getting them back together. Whether or not it works is something that I wouldn’t dream of revealing to you, though I will mention that the finale does involve a public spectacle, the overcoming of a childhood trauma or two and one of the more singular renditions of “Volare” that you will hear in this or any other lifetime.

As I mentioned earlier, the first half-hour or so of “Stepbrothers” is remarkably awful--a rambling and undisciplined mess in which it seemed as if everyone involved simply decided to throw away the script and just say whatever popped into their heads while making sure to include enough crude language to ensure that 12-year-old boys of all ages would laugh uncontrollably. During this long, long stretch, I think I may have laughed out loud exactly once--Ferrell’s character is having some kind of strange dream that causes him to remark at one point “I’ll kill you, Leonard Nimoy”--and spent the rest of the time cringing at the ultra-stupid shtick that Ferrell and Reilly were delivering with all the subtlety and grace of two meathead boxers pounding the crap out of each other in the 15th round of an utterly meaningless bout that leaves the viewers feeling as groggy and punch-drunk as the fighters. After a while, pretty much at the point when they stop plotting against each other and start to become best friends, the film begins to settle down a bit and uncovers a few nuggets of genuine inspiration. Watching the two of them embarking on their job interviews while fully clad in tuxedos is a hoot, especially when they manage to snatch employment defeat from the jaws of victory at one point by inadvertently hitting upon the one thing that will cause someone who has already agreed to hire you to think otherwise. I also lied the strange subplot that develops when Derek’s deeply unhappy wife (Kathryn Hahn) finds herself helpless drawn to Dale in scenes that I leave for you to discover on your own. There are also a lot of funny little one-off bits of weirdness as well--I don’t want to spoil too many of them so I will mention only the absurdly era-specific Billy Joel cover band and the bit where someone’s singing voice is regaled as “a combination of Fergie and Jesus.”

Part of the secret to the success of the film is the strange form of complete conviction that Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly bring to their respective roles. If the film is to work at all, we have to be completely convinced that they really are as clueless, naïve and tunnel-visioned as they are supposed to be--if we suspect for even a second that these two are smarter or more together than they appear, then they would immediately cease to be amusing and would simply become intolerable and fairly sad. Here, Ferrell and Reilly completely throw themselves into their parts with such determination that they actually manage to sell the film’s fairly ridiculous premise by making Brennan and Dale into a duo of innocent idiots who actually become somewhat likable without ever insisting upon it. Reilly is especially good at doing this--when he sits there in a Chewbacca mask for no discernible reason, it really feels like the kind of thing that his character would do and when he is faced with something wholly alien to his small circle of knowledge (such as the aggressive sexual come-ons of his stepsister-in-law), the results are priceless. And while the film lacks the fully fleshed-out supporting casts that have been a hallmark of most of the recent Judd Apatow productions, Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen are both very funny as the parents--they take what could have been completely thankless roles and liven them up with their own oddball comic energy.

Of the films that have emerged from the Judd Apatow production line in the last few years, “Stepbrothers” ranks somewhere in the middle--it lacks the sheer anarchic inspiration of “Anchorman” or the surprisingly nuanced characters and storylines of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Superbad” or “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and it will probably not go down as a high-water mark in the careers of anyone involved with its production but it is never as aimless as something like “Talladega Nights” or “Drillbit Taylor.” It starts off slow, has a lot of dull spots and misfired jokes throughout and it never quite manages to find that final burst of inspiration that would have finally put it over the top. It may not be a great film by any stretch of the imagination but it contains enough laughs, both big and small, to make it into one of this summer’s more successful comedies almost in spite of itself.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17096&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/25/08 14:00:00
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User Comments

8/09/11 ferrell4president good 4 stars
1/22/11 DANE Those like me with delayed adulthood/wealthy spoiled upbringing-silly/fun/grreat! 5 stars
2/01/09 mr.mike Funny for a while , then just spins its wheels. 3 stars
1/11/09 john This was probably the funniest movie i have ever seen, laughed the whole movie 5 stars
11/28/08 Jon G really stupid, but made me laugh 4 stars
8/14/08 jessica funny. but i feel like ive seen this movie so many times before. honestly, get a new charac 3 stars
8/11/08 George Barksdale Funny in spots, average at best 3 stars
8/10/08 Samantha Pruitt had it's funny moments, but fart jokes aren't gonna cut it, JCR was funny though! 3 stars
8/04/08 Cynthia Its a comedy relax and just let it happen 4 stars
7/30/08 PAUL SHORTT IT'S VULGARITY IS EXCEEDED ONLY BY ITS STUPIDITY, AND IT GLORIFIES BOTH 1 stars
7/29/08 mary mcmuray This was disappointing. It had a few laughs but I was not really impressed 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-Jul-2008 (R)
  DVD: 02-Dec-2008

UK
  N/A

Australia
  25-Jul-2008
  DVD: 02-Dec-2008




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