July 25, 2008

‘Step Brothers’ Forces the Crude and Rude

By Mal Vincent, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Jul. 25--MORE IN DEMAND than crude oil these days are crude movies.

Take "Step Brothers." It is a comedy about two 40-something guys who are still living with their respective parents until one's mother marries the other's father and they have to move in together.

They don't like each other. They don't like the marriage. They flagrantly express their dislikes.

Judd Apatow, the reigning guru of commercial movie comedies, is one of the producers, and everyone knows his not-very-secret formula for success is randy dialogue, male nudity and general shock. Since movie audiences are more or less beyond shock these days, it might be best to call it "mock" shock. Hey, that's our new genre for the day! Mock shock.

"Step Brothers" is R-rated -- and persistently, determinedly so. Don't get me wrong. We're not offended. No one who goes to see a Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly R-rated comedy has any right to be offended.

Unfortunately, the persistent F words and required fart jokes seem so forced. Cheap laughs abound. Very cheap. Very strained.

Ferrell and Reilly are two of the best clowns in the business -- and very different. Ferrell, who used to spend summers in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., is perhaps the most shameless clown of his generation. He's never been shy about running around with little or nothing on -- and proudly proving that he never goes to a gym.

Reilly, on the other hand, is more a sad clown. He always has lovable vulnerability to pull out when needed (as with his Oscar-nominated performance in "Chicago").

The two were cast to some humorous results in "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" (2006). They are thwarted here by the fact that both are assigned the same role -- grown-up losers who are little boys at heart, unemployed and spoiled by their until-now-tolerant parents.

First, they fight. Then, they learn they have a great deal in common, such as a love of dinosaurs and martial arts and bad TV. Then, they argue again. Then, they make up again. All this is made bearable for the raunch-seeking audience by the fact that just about every line is R-rated with an over abundance of the F word. (It gets a laugh every time).

The fact that the humor is on a 12-year-old boy's level may be ironic, but it doesn't make it any more funny. Ferrell, who co-wrote the script, knows who buys comedy-movie tickets. It's no accident he and Reilly play kids. Not since the middle age of Jerry Lewis has there been such an obvious attempt at keeping a comic (in this case, two comics) in the "kid" category.

One might wonder, though, why they would make an adolescent comedy that is so R-rated.

The gross-out level here is not as high as some. Of course, we do have Ferrell's indecent touching of the drum set that Reilly has forbidden him to touch.

Mary Steenburgen, an Academy Award winner for "Melvin and Howard" (1980), is the mother, and Richard Jenkins, who turned in one of this year's best performances in "The Visitor," is the father. Since they are older, and supposedly stodgy, director Adam McKay obviously thinks it is doubly hilarious to have them say dirty words. OK, you've been warned!

What's that we hear? Is it the sound of your car motor, air conditioning and all, being fired up? Are you heading for the theater?

Go ahead. Put down your money. Laugh. But don't expect this kid to put his name on a review that praises laughs this cheap.

Not here. Turn the page. Look elsewhere.

Mal Vincent, (757) 446-2347, [email protected]


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