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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Step Brothers": straddling the line of comic genius and criminal insanity

As avid readers may recall, my inaugural post discussed the merits of my taste. Four years of critical film studies molded an already discerning eye for quality entertainment. I can tell you why "Zodiac" is one of the most under-appreciated films of the past decade, and likewise why "Crash" was horrendously overrated (offense #1 - Don Cheadle says the word "crash" in the first fucking line of the movie).

Even though this film-goer has keen judgement on what is and isn't worthwhile, he is still human. And as he has admitted in the past, for reasons he doesn't fully understand, he couldn't help but enjoy the Will Ferrell-John C Reilly vehicle "Step Brothers".

The plot is simple, to the point of almost being non-existent. Divorcee Mary "She's Married to Ted Danson!" Steenburgen and widower Richard "He's the Gym Manager in Burn After Reading!" Jenkins fall for each other and have a horrifying trait in common - they both have unemployed 40-year-old sons that live at home. True to producer Judd Apatow's typical fare, these are not your typical unemployed men. These are men-children in the most basic sense of the term. They look 40, they act 12. After their parents try to get them to grow up by forcing them out of the house and into the workforce, it's like watching toddlers dress up in daddy's shoes. It's not convincing, but it's cute. Aside from cute, it's also ridiculously absurd. Take, for one of many, many examples, a scene just after Ferrell and Reilly realize that instead of enemies, they are best friends:



This is the basic flow of the entire movie - a one-note joke that hovers just above the line of utter stupidity when it's not exploring its depths. The plot is so loose that on one DVD edition there are almost 20 minutes of deleted scenes; knowing Adam McKay's free-wheeling style of directing and Will Ferrell and John C Reilly's propensity to improvise on set, I would wager there was enough extra footage to make another entire film.

It's plotless. It's inane. And, I have to admit, I think it's pretty damned hilarious.

To make this affectation all the more puzzling, I don't really care for the other Adam McKay films "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights". Although I rather enjoyed him as a cast member on SNL, most Will Ferrell movies have left me cold, the only exceptions being "Elf" and the slightly uneven "Stranger Than Fiction".

After a great deal of reflection, the best conclusion I can come to is that the movie hinges on John C Reilly's ability to play naive and innocent. Will Ferrell also plays the dumb man-child that doesn't know any better, but he does it with an underlying hint of brat that is at times put-offish. Watch the bunk bed scene again, and really soak in how pure and stupid Reilly is. I'll even embed it for you again.



Reilly nails the Tom-Hanks-in-"Big"/boy-in-a-man's-body gag, which makes watching him sleep walk, get intimidated by the neighborhood bullies, and get laid for the first time all the more enjoyable. I would go into more detail of Ferrell and Reilly's exploits, but to do so would ruin the viewing experience, inasmuch the movie is little more than a series of loosely connected vignettes.

This movie is strange. This movie is asinine. This movie makes me laugh.


TOO MUCH: In a movie filled with non-sequitur gags, this category is kind of moot.

COULD HAVE USED MORE: This one is too. The "best friends" montage (to Hall and Oates' catchy "You Make My Dreams") and "growing up" montage are just the right length.

FILM SNOB NOTE: I was pleasantly surprised to see Adam Scott in a hilarious role as Ferrell's overachieving younger brother. I met him when he was on an audition right after his break on "The Aviator", and I was impressed by how personable and humble he was, and had no idea he had such great chops for comedy. His first scene in the movie, where his family performs an a capella rendition of "Sweet Child of Mine", is hysterical. Several sequences of the film might as well be titled "Spot the Alums of Famous Sketch Troupes", including helmer Adam McKay. Before "I'm On A Boat", there was "Boats 'N' Hoes". Ferrell's Italian in his Andrea Bocelli cover is complete gibberish. Prosthetic balls aren't cheap.

IHYFM RATING: THREE AND A HALF out of FIVE MEHS. I can't say this is a must-see, but if you like comedies and laughed at the above clip, you might like it.

IF YOU SAID THIS WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE, I'D THINK: We should do our taxes together with our Chewbacca masks, even if they're not movie-quality.

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