July 30, 2008

Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn., Matinee Melee Column

By Kathy Gilbert and Holly Leber, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.

Jul. 30--Casey Phillips: This movie is a second to "The Love Guru" in my rankings as this year's most vulgar movie. Since the jokes dragged on long past chuckleworthiness, I'm convinced this movie's most redeeming quality might be as a case study in how comedy can be taken too far.

With one-tenth as many jokes and horrible sight gags involving unmentionable bits of the male anatomy, there might have been a funny movie here, but I'm at a loss as to where it went. With the exception of a recurring plot element involving destructive sleep walking, I was groaning more often than laughing. That's a shame because I had high hopes for "Brothers" since I found "Talladega Nights" uproariously funny.

Holly Leber: I had very little hope for this movie and wouldn't have seen it off the clock, yet I was still disappointed by it. Casey is right, it's not as crass as "The Love Guru" (they would have to do things beyond the reach of my imagination to get there), but "Step Brothers" is rife with the sorts of lines boys were saying when I was in the fifth grade. I liked "Knocked Up," and I'm actually looking forward to "Pineapple Express," but someone needs to tell producer Judd Apatow that genitals just aren't that funny. Add to that, borderline pathetic characters and a wholly implausible plot line and it's not hard to understand why I would have preferred to spend the time transcribing interviews.

Casey: The problem is, I think this plot had the potential to be amusing. After seeing the comedic dynamic between John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell in "Anchorman" and "Talladega," I was expecting, if not comedic greatness, at least a modicum of humor. The problem is, their execution leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination.

For example, there's a prolonged scene involving flatulence in an enclosed space and a cameo by Seth Rogen as an interviewer for a job. Had Rogen simply shaken his head and told the two to leave, the scene would have been worth a snicker. Instead, there's an in-depth discussion of the resulting smell that sucks the funny right out. Time after time, director/writer Adam McKay -- who worked with the two in both of the aforementioned films -- tantalizes with potentially pants-wetting moments of hilarity only to replace the punch line with sad appeals to juvenility.

Holly: I would have enjoyed Kathryn Hahn as Ferrell's frustrated sister-in-law if they hadn't taken a couple of potentially funny scenes and gone way too far. "Step Brothers" is a prime example of kicking a dead horse. Repeatedly. In parts of the anatomy referred to too many times in this film.

On the note of body parts and horses, both Ferrell and Reilly are credited as writers on "Step Brothers" and perhaps someone can tell me why some actors write themselves into roles that make them look like a certain part of a horse's anatomy. I would think the opportunity to create their own roles would motivate performers to try to come up with something good. But apparently not.

Casey: I think Reilly and Ferrell suffer from Jim Carrey syndrome. Despite performances in films like "A Prairie Home Companion" (Reilly) and "Stranger Than Fiction" (Ferrell) that allowed these actors to branch out a little, both seem doomed to star in bland comedy after bland comedy. Both "Prairie" and "Stranger" were relatively wellreceived by critics, but producers seem bent on putting them in one-dimensional roles that just dig the hole deeper. I'd love to see Ferrell or Reilly land their own "Endless Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," but that's going to be difficult when they return to roles like this.

Holly: Well, let's not forget about Reilly in "Chicago," showing off his musical theater background. He's branched out more than his co-star has, for sure. Ferrell needs to get out of his comfort zone (especially when, like here, it's a very uncomfortable one to watch) more. He and pal McKay should stick to teaming up on short projects for their Web site funnyordie and avoid the feature lengths. Truly the best thing I can say about "Step Brothers" is that I was reminded that McKay is the father of Pearl the landlord (watch it online), so he gets points for siring the most adorable foul-mouthed baby this side of the Pacific Ocean. I can't give accolades to this movie, however. It really is closer to a toddler's intelligence level than a grown man's. Ferrell may be a member of the Frat Pack, but he needs to accept that he is no longer nineteen.


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