At least Judge Mike Rubino enjoyed the commentary track.
Our review of Step Brothers (Blu-Ray), published December 2nd, 2008, is also available.
They grow up fast.
Do you love it when grown men act like children? Are you enthralled by good ideas for short skits or internet videos that are stretched to a feature-length runtime? Have you found yourself blindly loving everything with Will Farrell and Judd Apatow's name attached? Well then Step Brothers was made just for you!
Facts of the Case
From everyone who brought you Talladega Nights comes a film about two guys who refuse to grow up. Brennan (Will Farrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly) are middle-aged men living with their single parents (Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins). After Nancy, Brennan's mom, and Robert, Dale's dad, meet at a medical conference, hook up, and eventually get married, these two half-wits become step brothers.
Their relationship starts out pretty rocky, but they soon find common ground in trying to show up Brennan's successful brother, Derek (Adam Scott); along the way, of course, they learn some lessons about growing up, and staying young at heart.
Since leaving Saturday Night Live, Will Farrell has been playing some form of a man-child in just about every movie he's made. It's a good schtick for him, and most of the time it really pays off. Step Brothers isn't one of those times.
The premise is a simple one—one that's been done to death, really—and I held out hope that the cutting-edge buffoonery of Farrell and Reilly could provide a new take on the coming-of-age comedy. The Apatow/Farrell films, especially the previous two directed by Adam McKay, have prided themselves on improvisation; however, with Step Brothers there's almost too much improv. The paper-thin plot, which seems to rear its head from time to time, as Robert and Nancy come up with different obstacles for the boys to overcome, becomes a boring mess bogged down in its own improv-indulgence. Too frequently, the story takes a step back so that the film can work in another musical montage of Brennan and Dale fighting each other or inanimate objects. The irony of placing an early-80s pop song on top of a fighting montage is totally played out.
Step Brothers would have made a pretty good video short on Farrell's website Funny Or Die. In fact, much of that serialized web-humor has leaked into the film: there's a kinda-funny music video called "Boats 'n Hoes;" a crappy presentation by Dale and Brennan for an entertainment firm called "Prestige Worldwide;" and a series of job interviews involving the brothers dressed up in tuxedos. It all made me chuckle, but none of it added any cohesion to the film. In fact, there are so many different "skits" within this film, it started to wear me down after a while. The same improvised low-brow humor can only resonate so many times before it blends into the background.
Adam McKay's direction shows off his knack for flashbacks and well-framed slo-mo slapstick, both of which he prominently displayed in his prior Farrell movies. But here he also seems to be channeling the indie awkwardness of Napoleon Dynamite, right down to Brennan's monotone lines about fighting skills. McKay also keeps reverting back to the strange technique of audio cues jumping in and out—like the opera music that shows up during the fight scene on the lawn. It's execution is more forced and jarring than funny, and there seems to be little consistency as to when it's implemented.
The film does have a few redeeming moments, however. There are some great one-liners, and the subplots involving each brother's visit to a therapist were great. Mary Steenburgen (Back to the Future Part III) and Richard Jenkins (Burn After Reading) are also consistently hilarious throughout. Since Reilly and Farrell essentially play the same archetype (and they do it very well), Steenburgen and Jenkins come off as fresh.
Despite these minor good notes, Step Brothers is an example of stripped-down, comedic self-indulgence. It's like the id hiding inside of all the other Apatow/Farrell movies, the base humor that flows beneath films like Anchorman and Talladega Nights. Only here, after many iterations, it's stripped bare, without a plot or a leg to stand on…and it's kinda boring.
But for fans of the film, of which I'm sure there's plenty, they couldn't ask for a better DVD release. The 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer is bright and sharp, and the audio (and the strange old-Hollywood score by Jon Brion) is well-balanced.
The film comes in both theatrical and unrated versions, both on the first disc (there's also a digital copy of the film on the second disc). Accompanying the unrated version is a commentary track featuring Farrell, Reilly, and McKay with a score by Jon Brion. The commentary is actually scored, and Farrell, Reilly and McKay sing almost the whole time. And for some reason, Clipper's guard Baron Davis shows up (and calls Farrell and Reilly "adult Cabbage Patch Kids"). It's extremely entertaining. It's better than watching the actual movie.
Also in the set is a huge selection of deleted, extended, and alternate scenes. When you're doing this much improvising, there's bound to be a lot left over. All of the scenes are kinda funny, but in the same vein as the rest of the film. Along the same lines, the discs also include all of the uncut interview and therapy scenes, which are pretty hysterical. You can also check out the full "Boats 'n Hoes" music video, as well as the asinine "Prestige Worldwide" presentation.
Beyond the deleted stuff, there are two "making-of" featurettes. One is the generic behind-the-scenes stuff, and the other focuses entirely on the film's score. There's also some humorous staged behind-the-scenes videos like "Charleyne Moves In," about a little Asian girl who starts living on the movie set, and "L'Amore en Caravane," about a romantic relationship between Jenkins and Steenburgen. Lastly, there is a gag reel, line-o-rama, and "Dale vs Brennan," all of which just sort of recycle clips from the film. So if it's not apparent already, the sheer breadth of the special features is impressive.
For die hard Will Farrell fans, this one is a no-brainer. But for the rest of us, this film's lack of any brain whatsoever leaves much to be desired. After a string of sports comedies and parodies, Step Brothers feels tired, and the heavy emphasis on improvisation (and not the good, Christopher Guest improvisation) means that there's not much here past the fart jokes. If you saw it in the theaters and thought it felt long, the extra eight minutes in the extended version don't help.
That said, Sony has put together an incredible amount of supplements for the film. If you're a fan, there's plenty to keep you coming back.
Guilty of not being funny.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Theatrical version
Review content copyright © 2008 Michael Rubino; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.