Step Brothers, 1/5

Rated R. Click here to view the trailer.

Walking into the theater to see Step Brothers, I couldn’t help but ruminate on Voltaire’s Candide. I had just seen both Iron Man and The Dark Knight for a second time, and I was on a movie high. “Surely,” waxed my inner Westphalian student, “surely, this is the best of all possible worlds!”

Wrong-o, pal! This is a the worst of all possible worlds if we allow unimaginative puss like this pass for a movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good Will Ferrell comedy with a little John C. Reilly thrown in. I LOVE Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Rickey Bobby and the “little baby Jesus” prayer scene throws me into fits of laughter, but there’s a line between funny and being mean spirited and Step Brothers crosses it with relish.

The plot: Mary Steenburger and Richard Jenkin’s characters marry, causing their 40-year-old sons, Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly) to live in the same room and learn to live with their new situation. They both live at home, have no jobs and still insist that Dad leave a $20 on the table for pizza. Why? Because producer Judd Apatow thinks it’s funny, I guess.

They hate each other (of course) but slowly (or instantaneously) grow to be fast friends as seen in the trailer. (Note: They trailer makes these moments seem much funnier than they are in the movie.) They get beat up by (12-year-old) bullies, they hit each other with golf clubs, they fight with Brennan’s sleazy younger brother and they have unbelievably filthy mouths.

The problem is that not one ounce of it is funny. Violence can be hilarious (see this scene) but here it’s just disturbing. Adam Scott’s character zooms right up to funny but then rockets by and just makes the audience feel icky.

Steenburgen and Jenkins’ could have brought something to the table if they were blissfully unaware of their sons’ failures to launch but they are aware and simply don’t care. Step Brothers could have been funny if, say, Ferrell and Reilly were playing actual 14-year-olds but no, that’s just too creative for this script. The poster is infinitely more funny than this movie.

Oh, I failed to mention that the script blames Brennan’s and Dale’s arrested development on President Bush. I’m serious.

There is one -AND ONLY ONE – glimmer of hope and that comes at the very end as a Billy Joel cover band headed by Horatio Sans is booed off stage and Brennan takes over the show, belting out a very passable version of Con te partirò. I actually laughed during this scene, which is more than I can say for the rest of the movie.

I squirmed throughout the movie and was embarrassed for the entire cast (especially for Oscar-winner Steenburgen, who is the subject of a slight “older woman” crush). I was embarrassed to be seen in that theater. I was embarrassed that my theater had chosen to show this film. I was embarrassed that so many people in my city thought it was funny. Why didn’t the father and mother sitting in front of me remove their 12-year-old son from the theater? Why didn’t I?

It’s not considered the best of form in movie criticism to quote another critic, but thinking about Voltaire got me stuck in English paper mode so here goes Roger Ebert’s take: “Sometimes I think I am living in a nightmare. All about me, standards are collapsing, manners are evaporating, people show no respect for themselves. I am not a moralistic nut. I’m proud of the X-rated movie I once wrote. I like vulgarity if it’s funny or serves a purpose. But what is going on here?”

I don’t know, Roger. I don’t know. But I do know that Mr. Apatow, Ferrell and Reilly aren’t trying hard enough to tend their gardens.

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