Oh, ‘Brothers’

I get the whole arrested development-style of comedy invading theaters of late.

“Old School” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” really opened wide the door of such man-boy-based humor. So it was only logical that the star of the former and the director of the latter get together to produce yet another trip to Neverland, where modern-day Peter Pans can dance with their Lost Boy compadres.

The result is “Step Brothers,” which teams Will Ferrell with John C. Reilly as two men in their 40s whose remora-like existence is severed when their single parents decide to marry. Where Judd Apatow’s “Virgin’s” lead was more of an introverted geek who otherwise led a normal, self-sufficient life by societal standards, Ferrell and Reilly play two infantile sluggards whose puerile, petulant behavior and refusal to let go of their parents’ proverbial hands would cause Oedipus himself to proclaim, “Man, those guys are messed up!”

Ferrell and Reilly play Brennen and Dale, who are in their fourth decade of life and still prone to tantrums, wearing Chewbacca masks and asking permission to sleep in bunkbeds. Not only is this behavior from adults (from anyone other than Adam Sandler, who has established an entire filmography on it) not funny, it’s hard not to wonder if they do not suffer from some sort of mental retardation.

For they do not approach the world with childlike wonder and amusement, but rather hissy fits and unprovoked aggression. In fact, almost every laugh that manages to escape from “Step Brothers” icy, mirthless grip comes from incidental scenes which do not even feature the leads – a band that sticks to only 80s-era Billy Joel tunes, Brennen’s picture-perfect younger brother and his shellacked family of Aryan-like purity.

All of this seems fertile turf for Ferrell and his co-conspirators Reilly and director Adam McKay, who collaborated on “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights.” But unlike “Brothers,” those two films had some sort of narrative drive (thread-thin as they were), with wacky environments in which to work – a 70s-era newsroom and the NASCAR circuit, respectively. By setting the film in a simple suburban environment, there is little else to occupy our minds and force us to focus on just how disturbingly odd these two grown men really are.

Escaping from the travesty of what tries to pass as comedy is Mary Steenburgen as Brennan’s mom (who, at 55, has never looked more radiant) and character actor Richard Jenkins as Dale’s dad, both of whom play their enablers with a tad more dignity than this picture deserves.

There is also some inspired support from Adam Scott, ensconced in smarm as the younger, more successful brother, and Kathryn Hahn, making her debut as Scott’s repressed wife both wring their lines for all they are worth.

The film’s R rating gives the cast the freedom to swear like sailors on shore leave, but hearing the F-bomb deployed from Steenburgen’s mouth is more sad than amusing. I am certainly the last person to chide others for gutter talk, and it can be effective when used properly, but dropping it into normal conversation just to hear it echo sounds desperate, not shocking.

Ferrell and McKay have helped to create one of the internet’s most amusing avenues for up-and-coming humor, called FunnyorDie.com. The premise is simple: Users can upload a comic clip, and allow the public to vote into “Immortal Status” or swing the scythe.

If “Step Brothers” was posted among some of the other subversive, hysterical clips that now populate the site, it would not last a week.

~ by usesoapfilm on July 29, 2008.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: