Fox // 2012 // 76 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 11th, 2012
25 events. 2 brothers. 1 champion.
"I know you're doing to Do-Deca."
Jeremy (Mark Kelly, Mad Men) and Mark (Steve Zissis, Jeff, Who Lives at Home) are middle-aged brothers who haven't spoken to each other in years. Their falling-out happened in the wake of a competition they created as teenagers. The event was called "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon," an athletic event in which the brothers would compete in 25 sports ranging from pool to boxing to go-cart racing to ping-pong. The conclusion of the contest (and who actually won) was hotly debated for quite some time, and it caused a permanent rift between the siblings. Now, the two find themselves reunited at their mother's house for a weekend. Jeremy -- currently a professional poker player -- is just as hyper-competitive as ever and is eager to challenge Mark to a do-over. Mark is now a responsible working adult with a wife (Jennifer Lafleur, Baghead) and son (Reid Williams), and initially resists Jeremy's attempts to draw him into conflict. However, before long the two brothers find themselves recreating the ridiculous athletic challenges of their youth. Who will win the Do-Deca-Pentathlon and earn the coveted position of Better Brother for All Eternity?
During a few years of my youth, my younger brother and I were about as competitive as it was possible for two human beings to be. We would find a way to turn everything into some sort of contest or bet or challenge of some kind. Of course, as we got older and realized that there was more to life than winning silly competitions, our relationship became considerably more relaxed and mature. Basically, we grew up. I'm sure there are a lot of other brothers out there who can relate. The Do-Deca-Pentathlon (directed -- perhaps semi-autobiographically? -- by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass) tells the story of two men who never quite managed to outgrow their childish tendencies.
Oh, they're good at pretending, of course. Jeremy is a rich, successful poker player who projects a facade of unflappable cool. Mark is in a stable relationship with his wife and seems to be a loving father. Alas, all of that is stripped away when the brothers are thrown into each other's orbit. It doesn't take much effort for Jeremy to goad Mark into reigniting their controversial athletic event, but this time around the brothers have to take great cautions to hide their competition from family members. Mark has been dealing with his high stress levels in therapy for years, and has been advised by his doctor to avoid stressful activity at all costs. His wife would be quite upset if she found out that he was competing with his brother again, so he's forced to find ways to compete with Jeremy in secret.
There's a lot of humor to be mined from this scenario, and the Duplass brothers hit all of the expected comic beats with aplomb. In many ways, it's the film that Step Brothers should have been, looking at similar issues with greater insight and wit than that atypically unsatisfying Adam McKay film. Seeing two grown men engaging in childish competition is funny, but seeing them attempt to do so in secret is hilarious. The high point is an absurdly intense arm wrestling match that takes place in the wee hours of the morning; the brothers' desire for victory is only matched by their desire to be absolutely quiet. As the film proceeds, the laughs become increasingly caustic: a scene in which a furious Mark repeatedly slam-dunks a basketball into a net only eight feet above the ground as some sort of display of athletic prowess is funny at first, but after you stop laughing you realize just how sad it is.
The final act of The Do-Deca-Pentathlon is more stomach-churning than giggle-inducing, as the guys find themselves hitting low points and being forced to confront some rather unpleasant truths about themselves. The manner in which the Duplass brothers deal with the inevitable "lesson-learning" portion of the film is impressive, as there are some genuine surprises and hidden depths thrown in with the rather predictable moral of the story. Mark Kelly and Steve Zissis aren't particularly familiar faces, and it's nice to see a pair of lesser-known actors capable of handling challenging lead roles. It allows us to accept the characters a little more quickly; we aren't saddled with the baggage of their previous roles. Kelly in particular offers some strong moments late in the film, as he begins to second-guess his decision to draw his brother into this mess. The film was actually shot a few years ago, but is only being released now thanks to the Duplass brothers' elevated profile in the wake of Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home (not to mention all of the prominent acting roles Mark Duplass has snagged in recent years). It's clear that their budget was pretty small, but their emphasis on nuanced, character-driven storytelling (a consistent factor in all of their work) essentially makes that a non-issue.
The Do-Deca-Pentathlon (Blu-ray) doesn't exactly look spectacular given its tiny budget, but the source material has been faithfully preserved with this 1080p/1.85:1 transfer. Detail is solid throughout and depth is respectable, but the image suffers a little bit whenever the camera pans a little too quickly. Still, the somewhat cheap look of the movie is built into the source material, so those responsible for this Blu-ray release are free of blame. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is a little more impressive, spotlighting a score which inflates the drama of the athletic competition to absurd, amusing heights and occasionally injects some real tension into the proceedings. Dialogue can be a little soft at times, but it's clean and clear. Supplements include a brief featurette spotlighting the real-life brothers who inspired the film (not the Duplass brothers, I might add) and another five-minute featurette in which the two play Rock, Paper, Scissors. Sadly, that's it. I would have enjoyed a commentary on this one.
Yes, the Duplass brothers are still using that distracting little zoom-in/zoom-out effect.
The Do-Deca-Pentathlon is another exceptional effort from a pair of increasingly interesting filmmakers. Alternately funny, painful and tender, this flick is a winner.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R