Unfathomably, John C Reilly season continues here on The Film Dump! Somehow, through the sheer luck of the Lovefilm disc selection lottery I have managed to receive 3 John C Reilly starring films in a row. Seriously, I did nothing to manipulate this. Last week I reviewed Carnage, at the start of this week I reviewed We Need To Talk About Kevin and today I’m covering the Will Ferrell & John C Reilly starring Step Brothers. I don’t think I have any more films on my rental list with him in them though so normal service should be resumed shortly. For now, click the link for my review dum-dum.
In Step Brothers Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John C Reilly) are two 40 year old men who have never learned how to grow up and move out of their parents homes. When their parents meet and get married they find themselves forced to live together. At first heads are butted but before too long a shared dislike of Brennan’s younger Derek (Adam Scott) brings them together as best buds. All seems well until Derek sets about helping Dale’s father sell his house so the parents can live their dream to live at sea. This threat means Brennan and Dale will be forced to find jobs, move out and, worst of all, grow up.
The plot is pretty straight forward. It’s almost entirely the sort of plot you’d expect from a Disney family comedy but with grown men in the roles that would normally be reserved for one of Disney’s united colours of Benetton robot children. The trouble with the film is that that is entirely the joke. Brennan and Dale are pretty basic characters with only the slightest of back-story to excuse why they are how they are. As such for a large a portion of the film every single gag has the exact same punchline, that being that it’s funny because they’re not kids. The humour has it’s moments for sure though and Will Ferrell and John C Reilly’s chemistry as a double act cannot be questioned. The trouble is that if you expect something with a little more punch and class to it’s humour you’re better off watching Anchorman again. Maybe I should review that next. John C Reilly is in it briefly after all.
The makings of a genuinely good comedy are evident here but the lack of dimension to any of the main cast holds it back along with a very sloppily plotted structure. Large sections of the film really feel like they aren’t really going anywhere and are mostly present to just add to the silliness of the proceedings. The film really only comes alive in it’s last act where the parents Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) decide to divorce. This forces Brennan and Dale to grow up and in the process they fall out and go their separate ways but eventually work to bring the parents back together. I’m not classing that as spoilers because this is so formulaic a film you’ll likely guess something like that happens in the first few minutes. This should have been the bulk of the films story. It would have meant a maybe rushed start but it’s the part where Brennan and Dale have the most adversity to overcome and character to develop. You can’t just develop characters in the last 20 minutes of a film. The screenplay was co-written by Ferrell and the films director Adam McKay and it feels like they’re so focused on making sure they had their second and third act twists in place that they forgot that around that needs to be progression of character and story.
Brennan’s younger brother, Derek, is one of the film’s highlights. He plays an alpha male type character that is partly responsible for Brennan’s shut in syndrome. When they were at school Brennan was singing in a school talent show and his Derek got the school football team to taunt Brennan mid-song. This caused Brennan to never want to sing in public again. Derek brings with him a family of two children that adore and aspire to be just like him and his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) who secretly despises her husband and his attitude. When Dale punches Derek Alice finds herself helplessly attracted to him and begins an affair which Dale isn’t quite sure how to handle. Derek is such a dick of a character that you can’t help but enjoy him on some level. When he’s first fully introduced he’s making his family sing a cringe-worthy version of Sweet Child Of Mine. When Alice sings her part flat he endlessly berates her as though she’s just ruined his entire life. Sometimes all it takes to make your antagonist work is just a simple act of spousal verbal abuse.
Whilst the film is a bit of a mess structurally and whilst it lacks a truly well defined set of characters it does manage to come up with a handful of fun scenarios and memorable lines. The trouble is that this film lives in the shadow of Anchorman and, to a lesser extent, Talladega Nights. It fails to have the charm and style of either of those films and as such Step Brothers falls a little flat. I can understand it’s cult following though, because if people can still like Adam Sandler movies then surely some people can like an average comedy like Step Brothers. I’m really hoping Ferrell and McKay are going to put this blip behind them and bring their A-game for the Anchorman sequel because if they produce something of this quality there they’ll disappoint a hell of a lot of fans.