Watch the trailer here, I don’t really do summary.
Okay, first things first: this movie is really funny. No matter how stale you think Will Ferrell’s act is, or how tired you are of the man-child comedy genre, you will laugh hard and often through at least the first forty minutes. They don’t always have the material, but Ferrell and John C. Reilly are two of the best comedic actors working, and the two of them together are more than the sum of their parts. Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins, who play Ferrell and Reilly’s parents, have turned in plenty of fine acting performances and they do okay here, but the drop in comedic tension whenever Ferrell and Reilly aren’t onscreen is palpable. They just blow everyone else off the screen, like your mother at a truck stop.
And yes, the jokes are juvenile. John C. Reilly farts in a job interview. Will Ferrell rubs what appears to be his actual, hairy nutsack on Reilly’s drum set. But these guys are good at juvenile, and the way they do it, there’s a certain magic to it. And I’m not apologizing because if I ever stop laughing at a really well-timed fart joke, just put me in the ground because I’m already dead.
The main issue I question in Step Brothers is: is a traditional movie really the right format for this kind of comedy? Director Adam McKay, who wrote the script with Ferrell and Reilly, excels at capturing chunks of hilarity that can be anywhere from one to ten minutes long. We’re willing to accept any kind of strung together plot, unbelievable characters, and a completely inconsistent level of realism for about 40 minutes, but at some point, and no one’s figured a way around it, there has to be a third act, and that kind of requires a story. God, I hate playing the dad.
Even the stupidest comedies – Tommy Boy, Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Wedding Crashers – have enough of a story and real, well, consistent enough characters to push us through that inevitable lull that happens when we realize that no matter how much fun we’re having, somehow the movie has to go beyond the premise. McKay, Ferrell, and Reilly’s approach is so divorced from plot and story (it’s more a series of vignettes) that the last fifth or so of the movie is just… excess. At some point you just can’t help thinking, “So are these guys just gonna keep dicking around or what?”
They make a half-hearted attempt at wrapping up the story and it’s not a total failure – it’s kind of cute. But to produce an unqualified success, these guys need to A. Sit down and actually write something with a compelling enough through line that it works as a 90-minute plus movie, or B. Challenge the traditional movie length and/or structure enough to make it work for them. That said, I’d probably be willing to watch another valiant-but-failed attempt if it makes me laugh this much.