Normally, like any reviewer I have to watch myself and remember not to reveal too much about a film's ending. But that's not a problem with "Step Brothers," because I couldn't make it until the bitter end.
Oh, I tried. I watched in disbelief as I was introduced to the demon spawn son of Dr. Robert Doback (Richard Jenkins)--a 40-year-old loser named Dale (John C. Reilly) who throws tantrums and generally acts and talks as if he'd been to the same carnival and made the same wish as Tom Hanks did in "Big," but never tracked down Zoltan to make things right again. For much of the film's 98 minutes (106 in the extended version that first aired in Germany, and both are included here) this man behaves like a seven year old when acting like a thirteen year old would have been more than enough. There was plenty of humor to be found in the situation without going insanely and inanely overboard. I tried to take it, but when you multiply this nonsense times two, it's almost cruel and unusual punishment, because along comes an absolutely normal career woman named Nancy Huff (Mary Steenburgen) who gets it on with the good doctor and decides they've got so much in common--especially their 40- and 39-year-old live-at-home sons--that they just have to get married. In their wisdom they also determine that Nancy and her prone-to-pout son Brennan (Will Ferrell) will move in with them, and naturally the "boys" have to share a bedroom.
Maybe there's a parental reflex that kicks in just like the gag reflex, so that anyone who has kids finds little humor in watching two grown men act petty and fight throughout most of the film--so much so that their parents have to treat them like children. Those of you who find this film hilarious have a valid point of view, but from my perspective as a father of six, it wasn't funny at all. It was just annoying and painful to watch. At the wedding, both man-boys act up and make a scene, and sitting down to eat dinner for the first time as a family isn't much better. Brennan sticks out his hand to keep Dr. Doback from trying his mom's "special sauce" (ketchup and mayonnaise), and, not to be outdone, Dale holds the ketchup bottle a foot or so above his plate and keeps squirting a gross amount onto his food until both parents have to scold them. At the time, I was thinking that both of these basement dwellers should have been sent to their rooms . . . for 98 minutes.
Ferrell teamed up with director Adam McKay ("Anchorman," "Talladega Nights") again on the screenplay, and you can picture the two of them downing a few six-packs and thinking this stuff hilarious. Maybe you have to be drunk to appreciate it. You better not touch my drum set. Then again, even drunk I don't think I'd find the constant petulance and tantrums funny. Oh yeah? Well I'm gonna rub my nut-sack all over 'em. Or something to that effect. It's tough to remember exact lines when the gags never draw from anywhere else but the tantrum well, or its close neighbor, the scatological and raunchy-humor well. Eat poop? Haaahaaahaaa. (I'm not kidding, it happens, when these two tear up a playground and the kids get revenge by making one of them lick doggie doo-doo.) And the frequent gratuitous use of the F-word, et alia? Also not funny. It was funny to have Dale arguing in detail why Brennan and his mom shouldn't move in with them (like, what if she sees me coming out of the shower, and I'm like . . . and she grabs my cock), just because of his father's reaction. But too much of the "humor" lacks that reactive dimension.
I'm no comedy prude or highbrow humor elitist. I thought "Happy Gilmore" was hilarious, and the same with "Superbad." My generation was in college about the time that "Animal House" was made, and I still find that film funny as hell. But I couldn't buy into this film's insistence that the humor derive from men doing an extended impersonation of a seven year old. There are so many old guys living at home that this situation was ripe for comedy. I mean, a guy who's let go from his job at Pet Smart and another one whose idea of a job is managing a fantasy baseball team? This was stuff they could have really run with. Unfortunately, Ferrell and McKay took the easy route. I mean, look how funny the character Cliff Claven was on "Cheers," and it was essentially the same situation: a 40-something man who still lived with his mother and whose behavior reflected that at every turn, no doubt because he was s(mothered) the way he was. Sometimes he acted a little childish, but for the most part you both believed he was a man AND still a big boy. Compare that with a couple of sleepwalkers and a trashed kitchen, and my parental reflex kicks in.
The first act is pretty much all tantrums and mean-spirited territoriality that culminates in a scene where each tries to bury the other alive. It's only in the second act when a conflict between the man-boys escalates into a donnybrook on the lawn, and just like a couple of guys who beat the crap out of each other and suddenly "respect" the other, these two start to bond. They build rickety bunk beds, share night-vision goggles, collect action figures, learn that each of them wanted to be a T-Rex if they were dinosaurs, and stuff like that. But what really brings them together (and what finally gives this film some plot) is a visit from Brennan's "perfect" little brother (Adam Scott), the one who embarrassed him royally in high school and who now does the Donny and Marie thing with his family, spending big bucks to get them all voice lessons so they can annoy people with their Osmond-like renditions. After this guy comes onto the scene (you know what they say about a common enemy), the stepbrothers decide to join forces against him. After that, it's another formless gag fest, this time based on all sorts of loony ideas that this pair gets--and yes, some of these scenes are quite funny. Then it's back to competition again between the step brothers, and a premature retirement sailing trip around the world threatens to shake both of their worlds. And an ending that I didn't stick around for. Uncle, I cried.
Like the movie, the picture itself is underwhelming. The 1080p (AVC-MPEG-4 codec) transfer looks a little soft to me in spots, while at other times the flesh tones look a little too orange. The level of detail is good, but there's not the kind of 3-dimensional "pop" you'd expect with a film like this. Compared to another crude comedy from Sony, "Little Man," this one isn't nearly as impressive a picture.
Again Sony gives home video buffs a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio in English, French, or Portuguese, with additional options in Thai or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Korean, and Chinese. The featured soundtrack is consistently stronger than the video, with a nice separation of audio elements that nonetheless don't stand out or compete. Much of the film is dialogue, and that means the center speaker and front mains get a workout, but there's also plenty of ambient sound coming from the rears.
Why is it that the worst movies sometimes have the best commentaries? Answer: because they know they have to work overtime to get you to change your mind about what you just saw. But what usually happens is that I just think the commentary is more entertaining than the film. That's the case here, listening to Ferrell, Reilly, McKay, and NBA player Baron Davis. Why, this track even has a musical score by John Brion. There's plenty of information, but some wild exchanges among these folks as well. It's the breezy romp that the film should have been. Also on Disc 1, fans of deleted, extended, and alternate scenes will also enjoy a substantial selection, because there are a lot of improvisational takes that ended up on the cutting room floor. Other than previews, the final bonus feature on this disc is a Blu-ray exclusive, a "Boats 'n' Hoes Music Video Editor" which allows fans to cobble together an edited version and (once the BD-Live features are activated on street date) actually upload it. Now, had this feature offered more creative options, it might have been something. But it's a little disappointing.
Then there's Disc 2, which contains mostly featurettes. There's a brief gag reel which is more laughter than gag and another one called "Line-O-Rama," along with more snippets from the film that ended up on the cutting room floor on "Job Interviews," "Therapy, and "Prestige Worldwide Presentation." Then there's a montage of the two brothers hurling insults at each other and tearing into each other (yeah, like I wanted to see that again), and the full two-minute video of the "Boats 'N' Hoes Music Video." Add to that more trailers and a couple of joke, in-character featurettes ("Charlyne Moves In," "L'Amour en Caravane") and that about covers the small stuff.
Of more substance is a close-to-20-minute feature on "The Music of Step Brothers," which, of course, few people respond to this film will take the time to watch (and it is slow-moving), and another roughly 20-minute feature on "The Making of Step Brothers." It's a pretty standard making-of film that talks about how they were going to film more than they needed and then edit to where they could produce something that was both funny and deep. O-kay.
"Step Brothers" begins with an actual quote from George W. Bush: "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dreams." It's an appropriate quote, because just as Bush butchered the English language, producer Judd Apatow and co-writers McKay and Ferrell make mincemeat out of a premise that should have given two gifted comic actors the chance to have fun with their own versions of Cliff Claven. Instead, we all get a turd to lick.