Things To Do

Step Brothers (R) **½

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. Photo: Gemma la Mana.
Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. Photo: Gemma la Mana.

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

In Step Brothers, the prolific producer Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) pushes his prevailing theme of male arrested development as far as it can conceivably go. This tale of two 40-year-old men who become stepbrothers when their single parents marry consists almost entirely of watching Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly behave like horribly spoiled 12-year-olds. To call either one a man-child gives children a bad name.

Neither Brennan (Ferrell), who lives with his mother Nancy (Mary Steenburgen), nor Dale (Reilly), who lives with his father Robert (Richard Jenkins) are used to sharing much, or being anything other than the absolute center of attention, or having their every whim fulfilled at any given moment. Both men are unemployed, of course, and spend their days at home playing Guitar Hero or watching Shark Week specials on the Discovery Channel in their underwear.

So their reaction is understandably negative when their respective parents announce they are getting married. But things get even worse when Brennan and Dale discover they’re going to have to live together — even share a bedroom — and try to get along while the grown-ups are at work during the day.

Things go disastrously at first: When Brennan and Dale fight, they go at it with the ferocity of little boys, except that they happen to be grown men, so the collateral damage can be a lot worse than a few bruises. It’s only after the two men discover they’re really peas in a pod and become inseparable friends, though, that Step Brothers really gets cooking.

Director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights), who co-wrote the screenplay with Ferrell, takes a page from the Apatow playbook of giving every character in the film some substantial funny business, not just his two leading men. As Brennan’s younger, unctuously successful blood brother, Adam Scott makes for a hilariously loathsome jerk. Steenburgen and Jenkins tear into the opportunity to engage in some raunchy, R-rated antics of their own: A liberated Steenburgen in particular seems energized by the meaty role she’s landed here, a mother who knows she’s to blame for her son’s immaturity but can’t help defending him anyway.

But this is ultimately Ferrell and Reilly’s show, and although the two actors have played plenty of stooges in the past, they’ve never done it with quite the same abandon they do here. Brennan and Dale are as annoying to the viewer as they are to the other characters in the film: You’re constantly laughing at them while wishing they would go away. But it’s a testament to their performances — and the spirit of this surprisingly raunchy, decidedly R-rated comedy — that by the end credits, you’ve grown to like them a little bit. You just wouldn’t want to live with them.

Cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen. Richard Jenkins, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn

Director: Adam McKay

Screenwriters: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay

Producers: Judd Apatow, Jimmy Miller

A Columbia Pictures release. Running time: 100 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, coarse humor, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.