On the modern-day Hollywood comedy landscape, formulas that work-as in triggering the elusive comic kung-pow whilst raking in the box office bucks-will most likely be returning to a theater near us. When Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly conjoined as loveably doofus race car drivers for the semi-classic Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, a formula was born, and continues apace with Step Brothers. Not surprisingly, the Judd Apatow seal of approval and production imprint is attached, which ensures that we’ll get a fair share of sheer idiocy, potty humor, and, ultimately, warm fuzzies, as if in apology for the more shameless nonsense that goes down over the course of this comic hurly-burly.
This time around, the screwball halfwit tag team of Ferrell and Reilly are overgrown adolescents, still living with their single parents at age 40. Imagine, then, the exponential possibilities of hilarity when their parents-Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins-hook up, and the arrested development between the two carries over into a step-brotherly relationship. Newly joined at the family, the men scuffle and stake out territory, and then they bond by enjoying Reilly’s archival porn collection in the tree house. (“It’s like masturbating in a time machine,” he reasons).
Part of the weirdly amazing charm of Ferrell, a rare SNL alumnus who has fully made the leap to the big screen, has to do with his opaque persona. Who is this oddly dopey guy with the responses that often seem to be guided by another rulebook, and where is he coming from? We don’t really know, and the mystery keeps us tuned in. It helps that Step Brothers looks and sounds good as well, including music from Jon Brion and Hall Willner.
Like many a comedy, Step Brothers loses its firm comedic grip and sense of direction in the last act. Overall though, the laugh factor is high, assuming one has a taste for the contemporary idiot comedy genre. Ferrell and company offer plenty of humorous fodder for your summer movie dollar. And that’s far different than our autumn movie dollar, which has a more discerning intelligence attached.