Well, now we know why the trailers for “Step Brothers” were so dispiriting — the movie actually has lots of laughs, but almost all of them come from places too obscene and outrageous to include in the average coming attraction. Oddly enough, though, this latest batch of emotionally stunted man-children from Judd Apatow (he co-produced) demonstrates that shocking, filthy humor may be the only way to present these kinds of characters without smothering them in sentimentality.
The adolescent grown-ups this time around are Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly), who find themselves thrown together when Brennan’s mom Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) marries Dale’s dad Robert (Richard Jenkins). (It practically goes without saying that both of these aging Gen-Xers are still living with their parents.)
The two of them clash at first, particularly when Brennan bodily defiles Dale’s drum kit in his precious “Beat Laboratory,” but they eventually become best pals thanks to their mutual hatred of Brennan’s oily salesman brother Derek (Adam Scott). Turns out they’re not the only ones who can’t stand him — Derek’s wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) promptly enters into an affair with Dale, coupling with him in odd semi-public spaces.
Robert hectors the boys about growing up, getting jobs, and moving out of the house, but a montage of disastrous job interviews (including one with a potential employer played by Apatow regular Seth Rogen) demonstrates that Brennan and Dale are in no way ready for the working week, so they decide to start an entertainment company instead, with disastrous results that lead to Robert and Nancy breaking up. Can these oafs save their parents’ marriage? And will they do it by getting their lives together or by acting like their usual idiotic selves?
While your tolerance for “Step Brothers” will rely upon your willingness to find moronic behavior and potty-mouthed dialogue funny, I must admit that the film had me laughing consistently almost the entire way through.
Director and co-writer Adam McKay (who previously worked with Ferrell and Reilly on “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby”) never tries to defend or glorify the arrested development of his heroes — it’s clear that Brennan and Dale have been coddled and enabled by their respective parents past the point of no return.
What McKay does do, however, is find the humor in the situation, aided sharply by Ferrell and Reilly, both of whom bring outrageously funny new shades to characters they could probably play in their sleep by now. Even Steenburgen and Jenkins get the chance to score some laughs.
Granted, it’s a thoroughly disposable summer entertainment that breaks no new ground and doesn’t even necessarily stand out among the Apatow oeuvre of the last few years. “Step Brothers” is, ultimately, an R-rated comedy for 12-year-olds. But if you’ve remained in touch with what makes your inner 12-year-old have a filthy giggle, you’ll have fun with it.