"Your voice is like a combination of Fergie and Jesus."

Step Brothers

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

            Step Brothers will surely be in the running for some serious year end prizes. It will be a contender for the largest amount of verbal pornography in a single picture, for the largest number of unfunny jokes in a comedy, and for the largest number of violations of the production code ever to avoid an NR rating. Nothing, however, can equal the squirmy embarrassment of good actors laboring to prolong a one note joke for the full length of a feature movie.

            Why then did I find myself laughing out loud and repeatedly? The first guffaw takes place as the movie opens with a quote from George W. Bush: “Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.” After that note and some good sight gags, we know we are in for words and pictures that will be an affront to the very notion of civility. Can they keep up the pace set in the early scenes? No, but it sure was fun to laugh out loud a few times.

            Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) have fallen in love in their golden years and will marry. Each has a 40ish son (Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly) living at home. This family of four will blend into what is supposed to be sustained comic dysfunction. The “boys” will share both a bedroom and the wildly ridiculous bathroom humor that has been in vogue ever since the deserved success of Knocked Up.

            Mary Steenburgen plays Nancy as a protective Mom trying desperately to see only the best in her new family. Forget that she is simply not old enough to play mother to Will Ferrell and just enjoy it when she becomes the one to spout an unexpected stream of four letter invective.

            Richard Jenkins’ Robert does not want to share his new wife’s state of denial but is unable to get the two kids to move out. This is the same Richard Jenkins, who earlier this year gave such a memorable performance in the marvelous small movie, The Visitor We can only hope fervently that when the real prizes are handed out people will remember him for that movie and forget entirely his role in this one.

            There are moments: awestruck on hearing his step-brother’s singing voice, Dale says to Brennan, “Your voice is like a combination of Fergie and Jesus!” As we absorb the mindset of the filmmakers, a bicycle lying on the lawn will, of course, become a weapon, a bunk bed will collapse, a tree house will be the spot for digesting porn. The problems here are simple. After the 30 minute mark, the sight of two middle-aged men playing nine year olds not only wears wafer thin, it becomes embarrassing. The air in this big funny balloon just fizzles out until both the movie and the audience are left in a curious state of deflation. A one joke premise does not a movie make.
 


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