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With Step Brothers, Will Ferrell seems to be intentionally setting up a target for critics who have lambasted him reusing a man-child persona in most of his roles. In this movie, Ferrell’s character Brennan is as dumb as his version George W. Bush, as enthusiastic as a Spartan cheerleader, as convinced of his own importance as Ron Burgundy and as obsessed with toys as Buddy the Elf. And, to prove that you shouldn’t fix it if it ain’t broke, Step Brothers is hilarious, an ode to the adolescent that lives within us all but takes human form in Will Ferrell.
Brennan and Dale (John C. Reilly) are both 40-year-olds who have refused to leave the house or get real jobs, preferring to mooch off their indulgent parents. When Brennan’s mom (Mary Steenburgen) and Dale’s dad (Richard Jenkins) tie the knot, the two are forced to share a room, dealing with it about as well as real 12-year-olds would. Hijinks ensue, including a set of (prosthetic) balls getting rubbed on a drum set and a battle royale in the front yard, in which a shovel and a bicycle are both used as weapons.
Just as Dale and Brennan finally become friends, thanks to a shared loathing for Brennan’s douchebag younger brother Derek (Adam Scott) and the local kids who think they’re both losers, they’re faced with adult life when mom and dad try to retire. They handle that potential future by trying to organize a band, but they do it about as well as you would expect from two guys who treasure their samurai swords and do karate in the garage.
The plot of Step Brothers is more irrelevant than it is in most comedies, but that’s not really a bad thing. Ferrell, Reilly and director McKay, all of whom had a hand in writing the script, have made a character-driven comedy in which no one really needs to grow or develop in order to be interesting. The best scenes are when dad fights with Dale and Brennan, or when the two square off against Derek or his sexually frustrated wife (Kathryn Hahn). Just as some of the best SNL skits did, Step Brothers throws a handful of interesting characters into situations and steps back to see what happens. Unlike in countless SNL spinoff movies though, the technique actually works here.
Step Brothers is filled with dozens of quotable lines that your local middle-schoolers are sure to be spouting soon. The best has to be when Dale hears Brennan sing for the first time and tells him, with tears in his eyes, “You voice is like a combination between Fergie and Jesus. I can’t even look at you right now.” That’s a pretty good approximation of the Step Brothers tone, in case you haven’t caught any of Ferrell and McKay’s efforts before—irreverent, silly, and a little bit emotional at its core. In fact, kind of like the actual George W. Bush line that opens the film: “Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.” The fact that Step Brothers manages to be as funny as that single quote means it’s more than worth your time.