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Step Brothers

By
Step Brothers
Director: Adam McKay
Screenwriters: Adam McKay, Will Ferrell
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins
Running Time: 98 mins
Certificate: 15

As teammates in NASCAR comedy Talladega Nights, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly were like two peas in a pod, together venturing to places so far off the wall they might as well have been racing airplanes. They trade on that brotherly bond in their latest collaboration, which is also directed by Adam McKay. It finds them doing largely the same routine, only without the hotrods. In fact there is nothing at all flash about Brennan Huff (Ferrell) or Dale Doback (Reilly), both of whom, at 40 years old, have yet to fly the nest.

Brennan lives with his obliging mother Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) while Dale sponges off his irascible dad Robert (Richard Jenkins). For each of them, life revolves around junk food and television, only breaking a sweat when the “exercise lady” comes on to do her daily stretches… That is until Nancy and Robert meet. It is instant fireworks, not least because moving in together means forcing their selfish sons to share a room.

The moment they first lay eyes on each other is brilliantly drawn out, McKay staging it like the build-up to a Sergio Leone-style wild west shootout. They strut around like peacocks, talking trash and bragging about not very much; "I manage a baseball team," says Dale. "Fantasy league." Shrugging, Brennan coolly states that he is the next Bob Dylan, or as he puts it, "The songbird of my generation." It's a Mexican standoff that continues long into the night, each man refusing to shut his eyes for fear of being punked.

Typically for a film co-scripted by Ferrell (and McKay), and which allows for improvisation, the trading of insults hits truly surreal heights. More than that, it's the understated, matter-of-fact delivery of this outrageous dialogue which really tickles the funnybone. As usual, the comic timing of both actors is impeccable and best exemplified in the darkness of the bedroom as Dale teeters on the edge of unconsciousness. Brennan quietly tells him, "I'm going to take a pillowcase and fill it full of bars of soap and beat the s**t out of you…"

Less funny are the big, noisy set pieces when the cuss matches get really crude and sometimes explode into violence. A fight on the front lawn becomes a marathon effort involving baseball bats and golf clubs, and the punch line is simply Steenburgen, looking like butter wouldn’t melt, spouting a string of f-words in utter exasperation. It is the genuine, brotherly rapport between Ferrell and Reilly which means they get away with murder (or GBH as the case may be), and on top of that, manage to be endearing.

At other times, the spectacle of two fully-grown men acting like toddlers is a tad creepy. And just when it feels as though the joke has run its course, Adam Scott steps in and unites the 'boys' in shared hatred. He plays Derek, Brennan's dynamic and successful older brother who looks suspiciously like Tom Cruise with his wolfish grin and leather jacket. He even exudes that same crackling can-do energy that begs the need for densely-packed sofa cushions. It is a wickedly funny turn by Scott although, again, Ferrell resorts to slapstick violence to get one up on him. Just as lazy is a subplot involving the virginal Dale and Derek's nymphomaniac wife (Kathryn Hahn), who pounces on him at every opportunity.

Fortunately, McKay and co. manage to pull off a strangely heart-warming finale. Of course it's unabashedly silly as well, with Brennan and Dale desperately trying to prove their maturity at a swish wine-tasting party attended by Derek's clients. Inevitably their mission fails, but as it turns out, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Like the eponymous step-brothers, you'll have to get in touch with your inner child to really understand.


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