July 24, 2008
How is Judd Apatow not a recognizable name yet? We only ever hear, "From the guy who brought you...", as if it's not obvious enough when we see the cast. So, from the guy who "brought" us Anchorman, Kicking & Screaming, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Talladega Nights, Knocked Up, Superbad, Walk Hard, Drillbit Taylor, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, You Don't Mess With the Zohan, and Pineapple Express, (breathe) comes Step Brothers.
There's little to discuss as relates to the plot of Step Brothers: Ferrell and Reilly are middle-aged children living at home with single parents (Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins, respectively) who meet and get married. Now reluctant stepbrothers, the two men wrestle, hurl objects, and scream obscenities at each other for 95 minutes, stopping only to put on a different vintage 80's shirt at every opportunity.
A disclaimer, beforehand: 1.) My expectations for movies "brought to us" by Apatow was as low as ever, regardless of the specifics of his involvement; 2.) I didn't think John C. Reilly's full-blown commitment to comedy since 2005 was a good thing; and 3.) fresh off the heels of the terrible Semi-Pro, I still believed Will Ferrell could do no wrong.
All three of those facts remained true after Step Brothers. I thought Ferrell was hilarious, I thought Reilly was horrible, and I think the Apatow brand is a sham. Moreover, I'm concerned that the whole crew has become lazy, and that this is all we can expect going forward. The writing is uninspired (e.g., a repetitive sleepwalking gag) and there's way too much reliance on physical comedy. Also, it should say something when Jenkins steals every scene from the two leads. It would be one thing if Ferrell and Reilly were playing immature adults. We've seen that before and it can work. But here, they're actually playing immature children.
What happened to the wicked wit of Anchorman (Ferrell and Adam McKay wrote both movies, along with Talladega Nights)? Even though the plot of Anchorman was just as inane, it was more than saved by hilarious characters and well-developed jokes, and remains one of my favorite comedies. The formula in Step Brothers, unfortunately, seems to be one part character, two parts slapstick, three parts obscenities, a measure of potty humor and (Apatow's contribution I'm sure) a dash of male genitalia.
I know I'll sound like a snob, but is this really acceptable as the best work by America's comic geniuses? It's no wonder the funniest movie of the year so far has come from France.