Step Brothers: Will Ferrell Completes His Devolution
In effect, Brennan Huff is the role Will Ferrell has been preparing for his entire career. From oblivious Buddy the Elf, to the more oblivious and childish Ron Burgundy, to the even more oblivious and childish Ricky Bobby, it was only a matter of time before he played a literal oblivious manchild. Step Brothers is 90 minutes of men behaving badly, where two actors who clearly love working together act like 8-year-old boys, fighting and physically abusing themselves and others. If this doesn’t sound funny to you, then you’re in for a woefully long film.
If you’re like me, and the Ferrellian brand of lunacy amuses you, then you’re in for a funny if uneven film. The gags that tickled me the most were the childish behavior that didn’t involve grossout humor. A dirty look across a dinner table, improvised threats whispered across a bedroom once the lights are out– these made me laugh. Being forced to lick poop, exposed testicles rubbed on drums– these made me roll my eyes. I’m always impressed by John C. Reilly’s comedy chops and his gameness in these silly Apatow-produced romps, and between him and Adam Scott, who portrays Brennan’s villainous brother, I would hope that McKay and Apatow will continue to reach out to classically trained actors.
McKay’s directing skills have never been terrific, his talent lies in organizing the madness that occurred when the camera rolls and attempting to give it a story. He only marginally succeeds here– the film feels episodic at best, and the character transitions are non-existent, but McKay still attempts to give it a story, which makes it less successful than the totally anarchic and totally plotless Anchorman. There are also fewer amusing characters for McKay to let shine here; Anchorman had about 15 laugh out loud funny characters, Talladega Nights had between 8 and 10, and here there are 5 at most. The greater the numbers, the more inspired the lunacy, and the more frequent the laughs. I will hope that McKay’s next film returns to a world of unbridled mayhem.
As for Ferrell? This is a step in the right direction after Blades of Glory and the woefully unfunny Semi-Pro, and his commitment is still astonishing, but one will hope that he finds that next magical character soon. His serious acting has yet to impress me (Stranger than Fiction was a far far cry from Punch Drunk Love, The Truman Show, or any of the other examples of an allegedly one-note comedic performer’s “serious film”), and while there’s no denying how funny he is, one wonders how much longer this gag will remain fresh. How will the manchild routine evolve? Only time will tell, but in Step Brothers, he’s devolved as fully as he can, with moderately funny effect.