Make no mistake about it: “Step Brothers” is not for everyone. If you’re not willing to watch Will Ferrell lick dog excrement in a park and rub his testicles over a drum set, this movie just isn’t meant for you.
But if you’re strong of stomach, this pairing of Ferrell with comic soul mate John C. Reilly will make you laugh from the opening credits to the closing scene (the movie’s best – a “Matrix”-style fight between both leading actors and a schoolyard full of little kids). It is what it is: funny, silly and mostly forgettable.
Its most memorable aspect, by far, are its two main characters. The movie’s basic premise is perfectly suited to its leading men – maybe because they thought up the story together. Ferrell and Reilly play Brennan and Dale, 40-year-olds who still live with their respective single parents, played by Mary Steenburgen and familiar character actor Richard Jenkins. When the two parents marry and move in together, their sons become unwilling bunkmates, and then, of course, best friends.
Sound too ridiculous to work? It would be, except that both actors, a little doughy and approaching middle age, are extraordinarily funny as 12-year-old boys who forgot to grow up. It’s a one-joke movie, but it works, especially when they fall prey to playground bullies on their way home from a job interview, or beg their parents for permission to build bunk beds.
What’s more, Ferrell and Reilly, who’ve co-starred before in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” have an amazing synergy, and not just because of their matching curly mop-tops. Ferrell’s “Saturday Night Live”-honed deadpan is a perfect foil for Reilly’s petulance, and they play their characters with disarming sweetness.
It’s hard not to root for two guys who, in a fit of inspiration, film a rap video with a camcorder and think it will change their lives forever.
Reilly, of course, took an interesting path to a movie in which one of his most memorable scenes involves a prolonged fart.
An acclaimed actor in indie films such as “Magnolia,” he moved into mainstream Hollywood with “Chicago,” and then began to flex his slapstick comedy muscles.
Ferrell may be on the opposite path. He has grown a little stale in a recent string of leading roles in sports comedies – basketball, soccer, NASCAR, even figure skating. But in 2006’s “Stranger than Fiction,” he demonstrated that he’s a natural in more serious roles as well, where his deadpan becomes an appealing earnestness. Here’s hoping he pursues more roles like that.
All in all, for a viewer braced for unredeemed idiocy, “Step Brothers” was a pleasant surprise. At its worst moments, it seems like an expensive playdate for two grown-up-buddies, with a script that needed a few more edits. At its best, it makes you remember what it’s like to be a kid, in all its goofiness and glory. In the midst of an international financial crisis, that’s not a bad escape.