Sony // 2008 // 106 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // December 2nd, 2008
They grow up so fast.
Writer-director Adam McKay (Talladega Nights) reunites with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly for another foulmouthed, no-holds-barred comedy.
Two grown men who still live adolescent-like existences at home, Dale (John C. Reilly, The Aviator) and Brennan (Will Ferrell, Stranger than Fiction), are forced together when their single parents get married. While they initially hate each other, the new stepbrothers learn how much they have in common while trying out some night vision goggles and become best of friends. But when Brennan's mom Nancy (Mary Steenburgen, Nixon) and Dale's dad Robert (Richard Jenkins, The Kingdom) decide to sell the house and sail around the world, the boys have to grow up in a hurry. Or try, anyway.
Step Brothers is an all-out comedic assault, with preposterous characters in outrageous situations doing increasingly absurd things. The jokes come fast and furious: if you don't like one, wait three seconds. There's no middle ground with this brand of mayhem; you'll either find it terribly funny or just terrible.
There's clearly a lot of improv work on display here, hanging a whole lot of bizarre detail on a pretty thin skeleton of a plot. Yet, the finished product feels more refined than you might expect: characters, especially the boys' parents Robert and Nancy, have clear motivations that are responsible for many of the moments of honest emotion peppered throughout the picture.
But don't get me wrong -- this is far from a tightly structured tale. Many scenes play out like self-contained skits of the sort to be revisited ad nauseum by college students. Some don't entirely work -- a montage of job interviews, Brennan and Dale being harassed by elementary school students, the Prestige Worldwide presentation. Like the generous helping of deleted scenes on the disc, these all have funny moments but feel a little underdeveloped.
For the most part, though, Step Brothers delivers comic gold. The tried-and-true pairing of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, both of whom have made us laugh with man-child characters in the past, effectively sells this unbelievable premise. Reilly, in particular, seems to be channeling his Reed Rothchild character from Boogie Nights, had Reed chosen to stay home and obsess about Star Wars rather than enter the porn industry. Step Brothers being a hard R-rated movie allows the team to let loose with some ridiculously vulgar dialogue that keeps you from ever thinking of them as anything but 40-year-old slackers. It's crude, but retains an oddly innocent quality that makes nearly anything forgivable.
Richard Jenkins, who frequently plays straight man throughout the film, has one of the movie's funniest moments as he describes his lost childhood, and the surprisingly sexy Mary Steenburgen is the movie's heart -- we nearly wish Brennan would just grow up for her sake.
Sony has produced a fantastic two-disc Blu-ray release for Step Brothers. On the first disc, the film is presented in both a theatrical and extended version -- the extra 8 minutes in the latter is mostly a scene of John C. Reilly and Kathryn Hahn (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) having sex while the rest of the family eats in the next room, which is funnier than it sounds. Added to that is a substantial helping of deleted scenes, including a priceless segment where The Daily Show's Rob Riggle gets so worked up talking about the Catalina Wine Mixer that he has a heart attack, then tries to hide it from his boss. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is a rudimentary editor allowing you to cut your own version of the "Boats 'n Hoes" music video, then upload it via BD-Live to share with your friends -- a feature that's a little clunky, but entertaining and creative, too. Finally, Ferrell, Reilly, and Adam McKay provide a uniquely funny musical commentary scored by Jon Brion -- the participants sing about two-thirds of the time, making up lyrics as Brion improvises on a synthesizer, and at one point Baron Davis from the L.A. Clippers joins in. Fans of the movie will find this track essential listening.
Disc Two has more extended scenes of the job interviews and therapy sessions, a gag reel that's funnier than most, a "Line-O-Rama" feature that shows alternate lines from scenes in the film, and the entire Prestige Worldwide presentation. A making-of featurette focuses mostly on the improvisational nature of the production -- apparently the filmmakers shot 1.5 million feet of film, more than Apocalypse Now. The most unexpected offering on Disc Two is a 20-minute piece on the creation of the music. I've been a fan of Jon Brion (Magnolia) for a long time, both as a composer and producer for artists like Fiona Apple and Michael Penn, so it's a treat to see how he created the score for Step Brothers, taking elements from '60s Disney pictures like The Parent Trap and running with them. This featurette has long segments of Brion jamming with other artists, uninterrupted, showcasing his particular brand of musical genius. Overall, this is about as comprehensive a set of special features as fans could hope for.
Picture quality is predictably high, with light film grain present throughout (a little heavier in some shots than others), and bright colors, with no artifacting, macroblocking, or intrusive edge enhancement. Fine detail is excellent -- perhaps a little too good when Brennan rubs his testicles on Dale's drum kit, but that's the price you pay with high definition. Cinematographer Oliver Wood (The Bourne Ultimatum) seems to have shot some of the film with a warm cast, so skin tones lean a little toward orange from time to time, and light areas are often blown out, but I presume this is all as intended. Audio, in Dolby TrueHD, is natural and enveloping, if not particularly challenged by the dialogue-heavy presentation. Virtuoso composer Jon Brion's score swoons and swells through the surround channels, along with the occasional source song, and Brennan's drum kit sounds like it's in your living room.
Step Brothers is clearly a polarizing movie -- if the thought of John C. Reilly playing drums in his "beat factory" makes you giggle, you'll probably have a great time; if not, steer clear.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary
* Theatrical Version
* Deleted Scenes
* Extended & Alternate Scenes
* Gag Reel
* "Boats 'N Hoes" Full Music Video
* Job Interviews
* Therapy Sessions
* Prestige Worldwide Full Presentation
* Dale vs. Brennan: Sibling Rivalry
* The Music of Step Brothers
* The Making of Step Brothers
* "Boats 'N Hoes" Music Video Editor
* Official Site