Some movies have deceptive advertising, over or under-emphasizing certain elements and presenting them as something they are ultimately not. Step Brothers is not one of those movies. The ads were honest to a fault, displaying the film as exactly what it is - 90 minutes of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly acting like manchildren. This is not an ambitious movie, to say the least. You could call it many things - juvenile, puerile, and scatological all leap to mind - but ambitious is not one of them.
But I felt compelled to go see it, not because of Will Ferrell who I can leave or take these days (I watched Anchorman, Old School, and Blades of Glory, but had no problem skipping Talladega Nights, Kicking & Screaming, and Semi-Pro), but because I love seeing John C. Reilly do this type of role. The sheer cognitive dissonance of watching an Academy Award-nominated actor who starred in Robert Altman's last film as well as multiple films by both Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese and had several scenes across from Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York do the dumbest comedy you can imagine is worth the price of admission for me.
And the film did not disappoint in that regard - grown men ran around in their underwear, cried, gibbered like fools, knocked things down, and fell over, people got punched in the face, there was at least two jokes involving urination, testicles were exposed, at least one fart was unleashed, and I'll be god damned if a grown man did not eat a dog turd right on camera. But god help me, because I did laugh out loud at least two dozen times. Director Adam McKay (who also did Anchorman) arguably brings out the best in "dumb version" Will Ferrell, and for all one might accuse John C. Reilly of stooping below his Scorsese-honed level with this material, he is never, ever for a split-second anything less than 110% committed to making his idiotic character as funny as possible. The lack of shame from the two leads and the utter lack of pretension on display salvage what in any other hands could have been unwatchable.
And to give all credit where credit is due, three other relatively minor actors also stole plenty of scenes - Adam Scott as Will Ferrell's asshole brother, who plays the "jackass comedy villain" stereotype with commitment that rivals that of Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore, Mary Steenburgen of Back to the Future Part III fame who does a lot more with her straight-(wo)man beleaguered mom role than you would expect, and Kathryn Hahn, who I'd never actually heard of before this movie, but who gives a graphic quasi-monologue about what she wants John C. Reilly to do to her vagina that had me rolling in the aisles and might have just stolen the whole goddamn movie. Committed actors make for good comedy.
I won't attempt to defend this movie on any intellectual or artistic level whatsoever. It's absolutely retarded. I doubt I'll ever watch it again unless it's on TV and it's 3 AM and I can't sleep or something. But in the interest of full disclosure I cannot pretend that I didn't have a few hearty belly laughs while watching. So I give it the thumbs up of guilty pleasure uber-shame.
2 Stars out of 5