Monday, 2 April 2012
Step Brothers (2008) dir. Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen
By Alan Bacchus
Comedy is the most difficult genre to crack. When comedy falls, it falls hard. Step Brothers certainly makes a loud noise when it hits the ground. The Will Ferrell/Apatow concoction makes Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story look intellectual.
Two 40-something males, Dale and Brennan (Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly), who still live at home with their parents, find themselves as step brothers when their parents get married in their senior years. So the central hook is that the brothers are really old but act like 12-year-olds. At the beginning, both are protective of their space and it becomes a standoff between the two sulking man-boys. The two eventually find common ground and become best pals.
Domestic bliss is interrupted when Dale’s douchebag brother, Derek (Adam Scott), visits. His superiority complex causes so much conflict in the house it splits Dale and Brennan again. The final act is devoted to getting the two back together.
The writing credits are assigned to Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Adam McKay, the same actor-director team from Talladega Nights. Clearly, this script was hatched over a number of over-work drinks, probably on a few cocktail napkins. The resulting finished film feels like 90 minutes of improvised shenanigans.
Thankfully, Mr. Ferrell lets go of his uber-confident Anchorman persona and lets Reilly take that spotlight. Ferrell’s character, Brennan, is a meek and shy wannabe. Against Doback’s (John C. Reilly) commanding, posturing and bullying tactics Brennan continually gets beaten down. But it doesn’t stop the inane conflict between the two. Just one example of the key standoffs is over Dale’s drum kit, which is pronounced ‘off bounds’ by Dale. Of course, Brennan just can’t help testing it out just to fuck with Dale. It provides one of the many lengthy shouting matches of expletive dialogue, all of which appear to be made up on the spot. Both Reilly and Ferrell are talented folks, but, in cinema, polished and scripted material always triumphs over improv.
While most of everything falls flat, there are two standout scenes that had me laughing hysterically. The first is the sleepwalking scene. The two step brothers both happen to be chronic sleepwalkers, and one night they both walk out of their beds and walk around like brainless zombies. This was likely improvised and miraculously it’s a brilliant piece of physical comedy. In fact, the boys give us a second sleepwalking scene later in the film, which could have been a deleted scene, but obviously they knew they needed another big laugh. The other gut-busting scene is a montage of photographs of Will Ferrell’s character, whose eyes are covered in the ugliest redeye effect imaginable. Silly humour is in the details and unfortunately most of everything else in Step Brothers is without these details.
On paper, Step Brothers could have been a good film. And although I don't know the details of the production, it feels like haste, laziness and maybe a bit of ego drowned this film.
Step Brothers is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
If you're short on time, just check out the sleepwalking scene here: