Step Brothers

Movie Information

The Story: Two unemployed 40-year-old slackers who live with their parents behave like improbably vulgar grade-school children for an hour and a half. The Lowdown: Within 10 minutes, the tone of this unfunny film has been established. The movie merely keeps repeating it.
Score:

Genre: Juvenile Comedy
Director: Adam McKay (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby)
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott
Rated: R

Heightened suspicions of the decline of civilization became inescapable this past Friday when Adam McKay’s Step Brothers oozed its way into theaters. The highlight of the picture comes approximately five minutes into the proceedings. After a dose of John C. Reilly’s inanely vulgar prattle, Richard Jenkins snaps, “Shut the f**k up!” This sage advice goes unfortunately ignored, meaning there’s another tedious 90 minutes of more of the same—only with Reilly joined by Will Ferrell, resulting in a kind of close harmony moronity. Is this the state of comedy today?

OK, stupidity is a staple of comedy. It always has been. But this is different. This is the glorification of stupidity. It romanticizes both dumbness and meanness in just about equal measure, while legitimizing the concepts of entitlement and slackerdom in the bargain. In some ways, it’s nothing but a variant on the way movies have tended to romanticize mental illness for years (the old “crazy people are magical, smarter, nicer and more in tune with the world” shtick).

This is simply the Judd Apatow-produced version, which instructs us to bend a knee in honor of the wondrousness of the American man-boy. Why? Well, because Apatow films dictate that the man-boy is entitled to that respect. True, he’s emotionally retarded; his crass ideas of women are from Hustler magazine; his tastes stalled somewhere around age 12; he wears his ignorance with pride; he’s spoiled, lazy, truculent and feels that everything is his born right. But he’s really a swell guy—and behaving like a 6-year-old pitching a fit is just so darned cute. If your definition of cute involves Will Ferrell rubbing his testicles on John C. Reilly’s drum set by way of revenge (yes, we actually see this), then you may well find this movie too precious for words.

This round we have two 40-year-old men—Brennan Huff (Ferrell) and Dale Doback (Reilly)—whose single parents (Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins) get married, forcing the still-living-at-home duo to live together. The two hate each other on sight and exchange increasingly vulgar threats until they realize how alike they are, whereupon they become just that much more obnoxious and unmanageable. (Their bonding scene is set to Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True,” which performed a similar function in Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003). Desperation can get no more desperate than stealing ideas from Dumb and Dumberer.)

The two men act like spoiled children over and over and over—finally driving a wedge between their parents. As a result, they’re forced into the real world to make their own way. And when they do? Why, of course, the movie goes all gooey and everybody acts like these guys are Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey about to be cured of his 6-foot-3-and-a-half-inch imaginary rabbit buddy. (Never mind that Elwood P. Dowd was a nice, quiet, gentle, helpful delusional, while these are a couple of spoiled brats in men’s bodies.) Depressing or uplifting? You choose.

On the plus side, the Red Band (R-rated) trailer for Tropic Thunder that preceded my viewing of this movie made the prospect of that film something to anticipate rather than dread. At the same time, Step Brothers made the trailer for Pineapple Express look remarkably witty, too. Rated R for crude sexual content and pervasive language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

34 thoughts on “Step Brothers

  1. TonyRo

    It’s one thing to not enjoy a premise, that’s acceptable, but I feel like you missed it completely here Hanke. I really do.

    I don’t think there was one moment where I (or anyone else in the theater) wasn’t laughing and having fun. I can picture you sitting there, like a stoic grandfather who lost his sense of humor when Charlie McCarthy was put back in his trunk for the final time, while everyone around you is laughing and having a good time.

    I pose the question, why even bother watching it and writing a review? From your blurb about it last week in the “starting Friday” section, I could already tell you’d formed an uneducated opinion about it.

    Sure it’s stupid comedy and it’s vulgar. That’s exactly why it works. To compare it the DUMB AND DUMBER sequel is unfair because one of those is a recycled premise without the original actors and the other is a mostly original movie that people actually find funny and enjoy. CADDYSHACK and even ANIMAL HOUSE can be considered vulgar and stupid, but they are still beyond hilarious. On some level the Marx Brothers were considered pretty vulgar too, in their time.

    My recommendation is to get someone younger, who enjoys mainstream films more than you and Justin do, to review movies like these so that people actually looking for an unbiased and justified opinion about a movie has somewhere to go.

    The real problem with movie critics today is that most of them are old and have heightened expectations of cinema because they were around when some of the most incredible, classic movies ever made were being released. To expect every movie to live up to the standards of their predecessors only begs for an unoriginal cinematic experience. Like expecting your nerdy kid to be exactly like your football star kid. Where’s the fun?

    “Heightened suspicions of the decline of civilization became inescapable this past Friday when Adam McKay’s Step Brothers oozed its way into theaters”
    Can we say melodramatic?

  2. Ken Hanke

    I don’t think there was one moment where I (or anyone else in the theater) wasn’t laughing and having fun.

    I realize audiences vary, but yours was remarkably different from the one I saw the film with. The audience on Sunday was not rocking with laughter. The laughter was there, yes, but it was very sprase and grew more so as the film continued with its single joke premise. Compared to, say, Wedding Crashers, this had about as many laughs as Judgment at Nuremberg.

    From your blurb about it last week in the “starting Friday” section, I could already tell you’d formed an uneducated opinion about it.

    Not an uneducated opinion in the least. I’ve got a good working knowledge of Judd Apatow, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. I’ve seen most of their films. I certainly knew what the premise was, had seen the trailers and read the publicity material. So I had good cause for suspicion that it would be what it was — only it was worse than I expected. Trust me, I would have been more than happy to have found out otherwise — and, yes, I am quite capable of that. I can provide you a pretty long list of movies I was prepared to dislike intensely that ended up being pleasant surprises. (And movies I expected to like that turned out to be crashing disappointments.)

    To compare it the DUMB AND DUMBER sequel is unfair because one of those is a recycled premise without the original actors and the other is a mostly original movie that people actually find funny and enjoy.

    I didn’t compare it to Dumb and Dumberer, I cited the fact that it used the same pop song for exactly the same purpose as that film, and noted that stealing an idea from Dumb and Dumberer is pretty lame.

    CADDYSHACK and even ANIMAL HOUSE can be considered vulgar and stupid, but they are still beyond hilarious.

    That’s an opinion. I don’t happen to share it and I didn’t share it when they came out — and I was 23 when Animal House was new, so this isn’t a question of the age thing.

    On some level the Marx Brothers were considered pretty vulgar too, in their time.

    No, not really, they weren’t. And that’s not even the point. I have nothing against vulgarity. Go check it out if you like — look up the reviews on Wedding Crashers, Eurotrip, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, for starters. Try the reviews on Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II. Look into my take on John Waters. Vulgarity is not the issue here.

    My recommendation is to get someone younger, who enjoys mainstream films more than you and Justin do, to review movies like these so that people actually looking for an unbiased and justified opinion about a movie has somewhere to go.

    Well, first of all, Justin is 25 — and, if anything, he hated Step Brothers more than I did. So it’s more a matter of taste than age. Now, yes, it might be possible to do what you’re suggesting, but it’s neither practical, nor will it result in what you apparently desire. If you pick reviewers based on their tendency to like a film, you’re going to get just as biased a review — if not more so — but in the opposite direction. If you work at it, you can find someone who thinks White Chicks and Good Luck Chuck were great movies. For that matter, do you honestly think that a bad review of a Will Ferrell movie is going to keep the people likely to go to it away?

    The real problem with movie critics today is that most of them are old and have heightened expectations of cinema because they were around when some of the most incredible, classic movies ever made were being released.

    And that’s a downside how? You seem to be pleading the case that approaching movies from the standpoint of ignorance would give you a much better result. Also, the argument has a central flaw in that most — though by no means all — of the great comedies did not appear on the scene when today’s critics were around. Even Andrew Sarris isn’t that old. You may or may not have noticed that the blog I did on comedy a couple weeks back stopped listing films in 1952. That’s two years before I was born. The idea that a frame of reference consists of things that were new in your lifetime is pretty darn limited and limiting. That’s even more true today when everything is so extraordinarily available. When all us old folks were building our frames of reference, it meant actively working at seeing these movies, tracking them down at university showings and rep houses. Today, you can go to Orbit and rent them or put them on your Netflix list and they’ll come to your door.

    To expect every movie to live up to the standards of their predecessors only begs for an unoriginal cinematic experience.

    No, it really isn’t. No one is asking anyone to make movies like someone else — at least I’m not — which is not the same thing as hoping that the movies might “live up” to a standard. I’m not asking anyone to try to “make ‘em like they used to.” What an appalling idea. The very reason that the great films are great is that they were made by people who weren’t “making ‘em like they used to.” To cut a movie slack because it’s new and because it’s the best you can hope for these days pretty much strikes me as lending credence to that sentence you find melodramatic.

  3. TonyRo

    You can deny it all you want, but your review of this was very biased (based on said opinions formed by your previous experience with Apatow, Ferrell, and Reilly).

    I said your first little blurb about it in last week’s paper was uneducated because of one factor: you hadn’t even seen the film. To say it’s educated because of previous movies you saw by the crew is pretty dumb and very clearly shows your bias.

    While Justin is a younger guy, that doesn’t change the fact that the two of your are interchangable most of the time when it comes to movie opinions. What made Siskel and Ebert work is they offered equally different views with their criticism. I suppose you two are good enough reviewers for the Asheville crowd though.

    I’m not even cutting STEP BROTHERS slack either. It was in general a pretty good movie that entertains and makes you laugh, which is more than anyone can really ask for at the movies.

    Also, anyone who doesn’t find humor in ANIMAL HOUSE or CADDYSHACK, especially upon their initial release, is really lacking something in my book. I’m gonna’ call it a sense of humor. Let me guess, you hate the Three Stooges right? Long live Monty Python and all that?

  4. Ken Hanke

    First of all, I never claimed a lack of bias. I am not on the Judd Apatow bandwagon. And I have never even slightly pretended to find Will Ferrell funny. The whole “Look at me, I’m funny!” approach to comedy kills it for me every time. Moreover, there’s no such thing as a lack of bias in reviewers — whether they’re professional or amateur. Everyone comes with a predisposition toward what they’re seeing — whether it’s pro or con. The rare exception is when you see something you know nothing about and have no frame of reference for the previous works.

    What made Siskel and Ebert work is they offered equally different views with their criticism.

    Are you claiming that they never agreed on whether or not a movie was good? That’s demonstrably untrue. And why cite Ebert anyway? He’s even older than I am — and he positively loathed Step Brothers in the bargain.

    It was in general a pretty good movie that entertains and makes you laugh, which is more than anyone can really ask for at the movies.

    “More than anyone can really ask for?” Really? That’s more than you can ask for from a movie? In any case, that’s you’re take on the film. It rarely made me laugh and I wasn’t entertained — that’s mine. All this is is a difference of opinion.

    Let me guess, you hate the Three Stooges right? Long live Monty Python and all that?

    Hate to burst your bubble, but, no, I don’t hate the Three Stooges. At their best (and, for me, that ends with Curly, though I like Shemp in some of his solo work), they’re very creative and funny. Their comedy is also meticulously structured and was wisely kept to a 20 minute format. Part of the problem with Step Brothers is that it’s basically one joke that gets repeated for 90 minutes. They also never do that “Hey! Look! I’m being funny now!” business that marks Ferrell’s work more than any other modern comic. Do I prefer Monty Python? Depends on my mood, but I’d never really compare the two, because they’re very different kinds of comedy.

  5. Justin Souther

    You can deny it all you want, but your review of this was very biased (based on said opinions formed by your previous experience with Apatow, Ferrell, and Reilly).

    So you had no biased opinion of the movie before you saw it? You spent your hard earned cash to see a movie on opening weekend while not having a preconceived notion that you might like this movie? If you had disliked Step Brothers and Ken had validated your tastes, would you have still bothered posting about how this review is a biased?

    While Justin is a younger guy, that doesn’t change the fact that the two of your are interchangable most of the time when it comes to movie opinions. What made Siskel and Ebert work is they offered equally different views with their criticism.

    This isn’t a good comparison, since Ken and I do not go back and forth discussing films in the paper, and I doubt the Xpress has the space or money to run two reviews of every movie.

    We give our separate reviews to our separate movies, and we give our reasons for liking or disliking a movie. You can use the “bias” card all you want, but to me that comes off as lazy and arrogant. The idea implied is that you live in a vacuum where you approach everything with a fresh outlook, free from bias and preconceived notion — and an outlook, I might add, that in the end is completely accurate — and that anyone who disagrees with this perfectly formed opinion is “biased.”

    If some wholly unbiased individual loved this movie, any person who did not like this movie must of entered into it with their mind made up that they were going to hate it. I mean, how else could they dislike it unless they were trying to hate it. That must also mean that this person must be angry or unhappy since they go around actively trying to hate everything. It couldn’t be that they want more from the movies than unstructured humor in the form a couple of man-children spouting off ad-libbed quips at the top of their lungs. No, these people just don’t understand the subtle comic nuance of rubber testicles. They must not “get it.”

    I’ll go ahead and say I must not “get it.” But by all means, you can have it.

  6. TonyRo

    I’m kind of glad you two don’t get it.

    And calling their comedy “Look at me, I’m funny!” is a lot like calling the sky blue….I can’t think of any comedy that didn’t rely on the person delivering it being funny….from the Waynes Brothers to Abbott and Costello….that’s just how comedy works. Unless you count prop comedy.

    From reading both of you opinions on the boards here I get the general impression that you both have the same taste in movies. If I’m wrong here, excuse me…..but I’m pretty sure that’s an accurate statement.

    And I never said Siskel and Ebert ever disagreed on movies, but they both had different views on them and occasionally one liked what the other didn’t. I’m citing Roger Ebert because he’s the easiest and simplest film critic to cite.

    It’s cool that you don’t get it. It’s another thing to act like you do get it and then write a movie review like you did get it, but didn’t want it. That’s the main point I’m getting at here. The whole review was biased and a completely misunderstood take on the flick. Apparently you were looking for something beyond vulgar quips and fart jokes in a Will Ferrell movie (which there is, you just didn’t get it) and that’s where this review went wrong.

  7. Ken Hanke

    So you had no biased opinion of the movie before you saw it? You spent your hard earned cash to see a movie on opening weekend while not having a preconceived notion that you might like this movie? If you had disliked Step Brothers and Ken had validated your tastes, would you have still bothered posting about how this review is a biased?

    This is the central problem with the whole issue of bias. When the bias charge is made, it almost always comes down to the fact that the person making the charge wants a review that reflects his or her own prejudices.

  8. Dionysis

    Hmmm, some strong opinions expressed here. For what it’s worth (and that’s not much, admittedly) I WANT a reviewer who has a frame of reference; one who understands cinematic history, who can compare and contrast. I see no real value in someone who thinks horror films started with Jason or Freddy, for example. Sure, everyone has a bias. For example, while some of the comic titles cited here had some funny moments (and I liked the 3 Stooges, the Marx Brothers, etc.), I agree with Ken that Will Ferrell DOES come across as “look at me; I make stupid faces and act moronic, he he he.” In fact, I gleaned all I needed to about this movie from the groaningly unfunny commercial aired on television. His review confirms my impression.

    It just shows how subjective comedy really is, I guess.

  9. Ken Hanke

    And calling their comedy “Look at me, I’m funny!” is a lot like calling the sky blue….I can’t think of any comedy that didn’t rely on the person delivering it being funny….from the Waynes Brothers to Abbott and Costello….that’s just how comedy works.

    No, it’s not. There’s a huge difference in between simply being funny or doing funny things and literally pleading with the audience to notice you’re being funny. This is what Ferrell does over and over again. It’s like a five-year-old deliberately drawing attention to himself. There’s a high “Hey, look at me!” factor and you don’t find that in the Marx Brothers or Chaplin or W.C. Fields or even Abbott and Costello. The last named, however, do share the trait of thinking that louder a thing is the funnier it is, but there’s no sense of desperately pleading with the audience to notice them.

    From reading both of you opinions on the boards here I get the general impression that you both have the same taste in movies. If I’m wrong here, excuse me…..but I’m pretty sure that’s an accurate statement.

    It may be fairly accurate, but it’s a statement you could make about nearly all critics. Have you ever explored the critic lists on Rotten Tomatoes? It’s very interesting in that it notes how often any given critic on that site is in accord with what they call the “Tomatometer.” The general run tends to be in the 70-80% range. At the moment, Ebert is in agreement with his fellow critics 77% or the time. Manohla Dargis (New York Times) rates 76%. Larry Toppman (Charlotte Observer is at 72%. And then there’s always Armond White (ever contentious) at 50%. Surprisingly, I’m currently in accord 79% of the time. (I’ve been as low 76%.) So really, saying that Justin and I are usually in accord isn’t saying that we’re both so out of the mainstream that we’re irrelevant.

    It’s cool that you don’t get it. It’s another thing to act like you do get it and then write a movie review like you did get it, but didn’t want it.

    I get what it thinks it’s doing. I just don’t agree that it does it, nor do I subscribe to the idea that that “it” is a desirable thing.

    The whole review was biased and a completely misunderstood take on the flick.

    In your opinion.

    Apparently you were looking for something beyond vulgar quips and fart jokes in a Will Ferrell movie (which there is, you just didn’t get it) and that’s where this review went wrong.

    No, that’s pretty much all there is. Its attempts at sentiment and all that we’re neither earned, nor did they do anything but attempt to validate an idea I have no sympathy with. In my opinion. I thought Ferrell was good in The Producers, adequate but miscast in Melinda and Melinda and nearly perfect in Stranger Than Fiction. How did you feel about those?

    You still haven’t addressed the issue of your own bias here. Did you go to see this movie completely by accident? Did you just happen to wander into the theater not knowing what was playing, who was in it, who made it, or what it was about? Or did you go to it because you’d enjoyed other movies you’d seen made by or starring these same people? Had you seen the trailer and thought this looked like something you’d like? If the answer hinges on the last two possibilities, then you went to the movie with a bias. It’s just not the same bias as mine. Your bias was just as good a reason to suspect you might like this movie, as mine was to approach it with trepidation.

  10. TonyRo

    My own bias is irrelevant because I’m not the one paid to write movie reviews. I don’t claim to be a film scholar or even give a care about cinema as an art, all I was talking about.

    I know Will Ferrell is funny because, aside from SEMI-PRO and BLADES OF GLORY, the man is actually funny and doesn’t scream look at me, I’m funny. Watch his SNL material, his performance in OLD SCHOOL or the stellar ANCHORMAN….he knows comedy. Of course, you already assume that as long as it’s a flat out dumbed down comedy that Will won’t be funny in it.

    OF COURSE you liked him in Stranger Than Fiction and (for some weird reason) Melinda and Melinda…from watching the trailers you can see that it’s not normal Ferrell territory. Just like the highly overrated LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE showcased a different side of Steve Carrell that, frankly, felt like it was a little forced. You wouldn’t expect to see Mel Brooks harnessing his inner serious actor because, guess what….it probably is as bland as Laurnece Oliver’s comedic stylings.

  11. “OF COURSE you liked him in Stranger Than Fiction and (for some weird reason) Melinda and Melinda…from watching the trailers you can see that it’s not normal Ferrell territory.”

    My stores have been open during the Will Ferrell era, so during the past five years I have been able to gauge how successful each of his films have been. Without a doubt his biggest film for my customers is STRANGER THAN FICTION. In fact, it’s probably the most popular rental that I’ve ever stocked. So the impression that I get is that fans, at least Asheville fans, would like to see him stretch his acting chops a little more.

    In order for Ferrell to make money, Ferrell can only play two characters: the man child and the overconfident oblivious adult. This formula has worked well until recently. SEMI PRO was a bomb, and the final nail on the coffin for New Line Cinema. To me STEP BROTHERS looks more of the same (man child), but had a surprisingly good first weekend, so maybe the formula is not so tired yet.

    I’m puzzled why Ken’s review has got you tied up into knots, Tony. We’ve disagreed many times on past reviews (musicals, Linklater & anything British), but I feel that even in disagreement he gives enough valid points understand where he’s coming from. Besides, he’s been unusually kind to summer films this year :)

  12. [b]The real problem with movie critics today … [/b]

    “Damn you modern-day critics! Why can’t you be open-minded and unbiased like me and all my friends!”

    ***Shakes fist. Has seen [i]Dodgeball[/i] 300 times.***

  13. [b]It’s cool that you don’t get it. It’s another thing to act like you do get it and then write a movie review like you did get it, but didn’t want it.[/b]

    “I don’t think you ‘get’ the genius of [i]Club Dread[/i], Mr. Hanke.”[/i]

    ***Logs off to watch extended edition of [i]Grandma’s Boy[/i] with tears of joy in eyes.***

  14. Louis

    CADDYSHACK and even ANIMAL HOUSE can be considered vulgar and stupid, but they are still beyond hilarious.

    Also, anyone who doesn’t find humor in ANIMAL HOUSE or CADDYSHACK, especially upon their initial release, is really lacking something in my book. I’m gonna’ call it a sense of humor. Let me guess, you hate the Three Stooges right?

    Oh, GOD! Not another player that has discarded the CADDYSHACK wildcard?!?!?! In the immortal words of tennis great John McEnroe: You CANNOT be serious!. If this were a casino, the CADDYSHACK rounders would be tossed out on the grounds they’re trying to cheat the house.

    What is it with this movie? Its citation couldn’t be any more predictable. GONE WITH THE WIND. CITIZEN KANE. CASABLANCA. CADDYSHACK. It’s become Gen X’s symbolic rite of passage except, evidently, for me. Regrettably, I’ve been left standing at the altar. Why not any love for PORKY’S? CADDYSHACK is no funnier—you might even argue that PORKY’S has a more iconically funny scene in it. In fact, I think I’m going to start a groundswell campaign that PORKY’S be included in the “all time great comedies” discussion with the same arrested-adolescent reverence as CADDYSHACK. In addition, yes, in their prime—I’m afraid that means with Shemp–the Three Stooges are funny.

    Will Ferrell mugs for the camera. That’s a fact. It’s one brand of regressive comedy.

    Think of classic film (this excludes The Three Stooges) comedians like the Marx Brothers, Fields, Laurel & Hardy, Hope, and even Steve Martin. Deciphering the comedic formula is the difference between two competing interior dialogues: Saying, “This movie is about guys who are dumb.” Therein lays the humor. The alternative is saying, “Gee (?), these guys are dumb.” That ain’t funny. The Will Ferrell man-boy archetype always leaves me thinking the latter. Moreover, I managed to reach this conclusion w/o working for Mountain Xpress.

    The next generation of filmgoers will barely know Ferrell existed, unless he figures out how to stretch himself. Should this not happen, his comic persona will fade like a shooting star. Think Mike Myers?

    STRANGER THAN FICTION was a good start. The most relevant example of such a comedic transformation is Bill Murray. Adam Sandler would be advised to at least try following suit–a la PUNCH DRUNK LOVE–before his comic persona self-destructs.

  15. Justin Souther

    My own bias is irrelevant because I’m not the one paid to write movie reviews.

    Here’s the thing. I am getting paid to write film criticism, so I guess my biases are relevant, since — guess what — the Xpress is paying me to give a subjective view of any film I review. If you could please explain to me how to watch a movie with zero bias, please do and I will gladly attempt it. Maybe someone could create a series of charts, formulas and questionnaires that I could fill out in order to tell me whether a movie is good or not. Or maybe we should just find a group of people who have never seen a movie (or better yet, any creative work), then plop them down in a theater, and later they can tell us about all the pretty colors and moving pictures they saw in front of them. Until these things happens, looks like you’re stuck with biases.

    I know I’ve told you this before in the Cloverfield thread, but movies will never exist in a vacuum. Neither will critics. Any human being is going to watch a movie with their own tastes and opinions and worldview entering into the picture. This has always been and always will be a fact. Every single critic is biased in one way or another. There are 880 some odd critics on Rotten Tomatoes. I beg of you, show me one who has no biases. Name this person and I’ll show you a critic who isn’t worth the paper he or she is printed on.

    I’m still not sure what exactly you’re looking for. If a critic’s bias doesn’t enter into the criticism, then all you’ll get is plot synopsis. Is that what you want? Or maybe every review should be, “I did/did not like this movie. You may/may not like this movie. 5 stars.”

    In any review Ken or I have written, we have stated our reasons as to why we do or do not like a movie. As film critics, that is what we are payed to do, to give a thorough and educated perspective as to the merits of a film. If our reasons do not line up with yours or you disagree, then please, feel free to discuss or debate them with us. But simply calling a critic biased is meaningless, redundant and intellectually lazy.

    I’m still curious to know if you’d be making such a fuss if Ken’s review had lined up with your own tastes.

  16. Ken Hanke

    It just shows how subjective comedy really is, I guess.

    All art is subjective, but comedy does seem to be on the high end of the scale. Good Lord, I sat through the Robin Williams “comedy” R.V. with an audience who were howling with laughter. It still puzzles me. I once (1973ish) sat through Duck Soup with my then girl friend who laughed exactly one time during the whole film. The relationship was doomed.

  17. Ken Hanke

    My own bias is irrelevant because I’m not the one paid to write movie reviews. I don’t claim to be a film scholar or even give a care about cinema as an art, all I was talking about.

    You’re expressing your opinion about a movie and your opinion about bias, so, yeah, at this point your bias is relevant. I do get paid to write movie reviews and articles and even books. I’ve done audio commentaries on DVDs, on-camera interviews for documentaries on movies, liner notes, film festival programs (one in Finland even) — pretty much the gamut. I do care about cinema as an art, which in itself probably makes me biased on that score.

    The whole point comes down to this one simple fact–there ain’t no such thing as an unbiased critic. Period. If you honestly believe that Roger Ebert has never groaned at the prospect of sitting through a work by or starring someone whose work has rarely — if ever — pleased him, I’d suggest you rethink that position. It is simply not possible to build up a frame of reference — something that’s pretty much essential (and pretty much a life’s work in itself) for a good critic — and not arrive at a whole string of biases. If you’ve sat through a half dozen works by or with the same people and have come away from all of them wishing you had your two hours back, you’d have to be an idiot not to approach that seventh film expecting more of the same (especially if it’s been promoted as “more of the same”).

    I know Will Ferrell is funny because, aside from SEMI-PRO and BLADES OF GLORY, the man is actually funny and doesn’t scream look at me, I’m funny.

    No, in your opinion he’s funny. And, in my opinion, yes, he does scream “Hey look I’m being funny now” in every film you’ve cited and then some (the aptly titled Kicking and Screaming, anybody?). Take a look at Talladega Nights — here’s a movie where the guy’s so full of himself that there’s not a nickel’s worth of difference between the film proper and the outtakes in the closing credits. It’s all equally broad, equally unsubtle and equally played directly at the audience. I might add one film — Elf — to the list of Ferrell movies I liked, but I’d need to see it again to be sure it wasn’t simply that I didn’t dislike it.

    In essence, you’ve just admitted your bias in this matter. You don’t just find Ferrell funny, you know he is. I’m still not sure why, since phrases like “it’s funny and entertaining” and “he knows comedy” don’t really convey any but the broadest idea of why you think — or know — he’s funny.

    OF COURSE you liked him in Stranger Than Fiction and (for some weird reason) Melinda and Melinda…from watching the trailers you can see that it’s not normal Ferrell territory.

    No, it’s not. (Am I to infer that you haven’t seen these films because the trailers biased you against them on this basis?) Actually, the trailer for Stranger Than Fiction did its damndest to sell it as “normal Ferrell territory” by finding the handful of scenes where he does his “Will Ferrell thing” and loading them into the trailer.

    Just like the highly overrated LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE showcased a different side of Steve Carrell that, frankly, felt like it was a little forced.

    Though I’d agree that the film in question was overrated, the performance in question strikes me as the only really good one the man’s given. (I’m actually surprised you find it overrated, though, because it handily wins the prize of most laughs I’ve heard in a theater in years.)

    You wouldn’t expect to see Mel Brooks harnessing his inner serious actor because, guess what….it probably is as bland as Laurnece Oliver’s comedic stylings.

    First of all, Brooks played long stretches of the remake of To Be or Not to Be fairly straight, though he did leave his serious side to films he produced, but didn’t appear in for the most part (The Elephant Man, 84 Charing Cross Road, The Fly). And Olivier did indeed play comedy.

  18. Ken Hanke

    “***Logs off to watch extended edition of Grandma’s Boy with tears of joy in eyes.***”

    Ah, now there’s a movie!

    I have to admit I kinda liked Grandma’s Boy, though I think it was mostly because it so nailed so many people I know.

  19. Ken Hanke

    In fact, I think I’m going to start a groundswell campaign that PORKY’S be included in the “all time great comedies” discussion with the same arrested-adolescent reverence as CADDYSHACK.

    Works for me as long as you don’t try to drag in the Police Academy movies.

  20. Ken Hanke

    I’m still curious to know if you’d be making such a fuss if Ken’s review had lined up with your own tastes.

    An interesting point. I somehow suspect I wouldn’t being hearing all about bias if my review read, “Here’s yet another hysterically funny from that master of comedy Will Ferrell,” and yet that sentence alone conveys a world of bias.

  21. TonyRo

    Without furthering this stuff anymore, I guess I should just say I really am not surprised by Hanke’s review. For some reason I expected him to find SOME merit in this film.

    I’m not saying view a film without bias, but I do say at least give a flick a chance (which I felt like Ken didn’t do, considering his blurb about it last week, as was my point).

    Also, of course I wouldn’t argue this if Ken had given it a good review or even a bad one, the reason I’m arguing it is because I don’t think he gave it a fair one.

  22. [b]Works for me as long as you don’t try to drag in the Police Academy movies.[/b]

    How dare you?! Steve Guttenberg [i]knows[/i] comedy. Just like [i]I[/i] know comedy. He’s like the Dave Coulier of the silver screen.

  23. Ken Hanke

    I’m not saying view a film without bias, but I do say at least give a flick a chance (which I felt like Ken didn’t do, considering his blurb about it last week, as was my point).

    Well, actually, you did say to view a film without bias, but, believe it or not, I did give the film a chance as I give any film a chance when I watch it.

    Did I go into expecting it to be bad? Sure. I’d seen the trailers, knew the premise and have not been an admirer of Ferrell’s particular brand of comedy from day one (check out the reviews of other Ferrell films, nor have I been gushing over the Judd Apatow man-child movies, which can also be checked out). At the same time, I was hoping that the movie might be other than it appeared it was going to be. It’s not actually a lot of fun sitting through something you don’t like and it would take a very peculiar mindset to hope that a movie will be bad. In other words, I held out hope that I’d like Step Brothers, despite the, to me, glaring probability that it would live up to the trailers.

    Unfortunately, the upcomer blurbs — which are based on the trailers, presskits and early reviews — are not archived and I don’t personally save them (I’ve just been replacing the contents of the same template for years). If they were, I could find you examples of movies that looked pretty grim, but that ended up getting good reviews. I know I went to the Moulin Rouge! expecting to hate it. It ended up being my no. 1 film from 2001. I thought The Rules of Attraction looked like utter crap, based on the trailer and the available information. It ended up being my no. 1 film for 2002. And so on.

    Even without recourse to the original upcomer, it’s not hard to imagine the tone of it based on my opening remarks in the review of Eurotrip:

    “I settled in to watch Eurotrip in exactly the same frame of mind as if I were about to be subjected to a marathon of Beverly Hillbillies episodes.

    Only a few minutes into the film, and I was quite certain that my worst fears were about to be realized. Then, just as I was sinking into the absolute depths of despair, there appeared Matt Damon — head shaved, plastered in tattoos and festooned with more body piercings than a pincushion — as the lead singer for a punkish band. He was belting out a song called “Scotty Doesn’t Know” (think early Oingo Boingo) detailing all the sexual hijinks of the girl who just dumped the film’s lead, Scott Thomas (Scott Mechlowicz). Suddenly, it looked like Eurotrip wasn’t just another teen comedy after all.”

    And:

    “That I would end up actually enjoying a movie by the three guys — Alec Berg, Dave Mandel and Jeff Schaffer — responsible for the execrable Cat in the Hat is little short of a miracle (though Eurotrip may simply indicate that these boys shouldn’t be let within a hundred miles of a PG-rated concept).”

    A movie tries to sell itself to you — and to the reviewer even more so — based on trailers and brand names and the idea that you’ve liked previous films of a similar nature. (If you’re a reviewer, they’ll also provide with you press materials filled with PR fluff and occasionally little gifts. Disturbia, for example, was accompanied with a pair of binoculars, a can of Red Bull and a Twinkie.) That’s fine, but it cuts both ways, since there’s no way of knowing whether or not you really are going to respond positively to those connections. The burden is on the actual movie itself.

    The blurb was my honest reaction to the information at hand pre-screening. The review was my honest reaction to the movie.

  24. Ken Hanke

    How dare you?! Steve Guttenberg knows comedy. Just like I know comedy. He’s like the Dave Coulier of the silver screen.

    That’s a mighty cold thing to say even about Steve “Dude, where’s my career?” Guttenberg.

  25. No one ever wrote a song like “You Oughta Know” about a failed relationship with Steve “Shown Up Consistently By Noises Made By Michael Winslow” Guttenberg. Plus, Coulier has better hair.

  26. Ken Hanke

    No one ever wrote a song like “You Oughta Know” about a failed relationship with Steve “Shown Up Consistently By Noises Made By Michael Winslow” Guttenberg.

    And Steve “I Bared My Ass for You People in The Bedroom Window” Guttenberg is mighty cheesed about that.

  27. Louis

    Just curious–

    Why isn’t the review for THE DARK KNIGHT listed under the “Still Showing” heading within the MOVIES tab of the Xpress web site, assuming of course that it’s still showing?

  28. [b]Why isn’t the review for THE DARK KNIGHT listed under the “Still Showing” heading within the MOVIES tab of the Xpress web site …[/b]

    It looks like an oversight. I’ll look into it. Thanks for drawing it to my attention.

  29. david

    Ken henke hates crappy movies. this is not exactly a news flash. he’s a movie reviewer. he has taste. he believes that movies are not just simple formulas. they are art.
    why people feel the need to defend their enjoyment of crappy movies is beyond me. Personally, i love me a good adam sandler movie, but i know hanke will HATE them. So? He writes an entertaining review, nonetheless. I still read the reviews. It’s not like his opinion is more relevant than anyone elses in the end.
    I’m sure step-brothers is some good, mindless entertainment, and maybe the mx needs to get a “joe-schmo, crappy-movie reviewer.” That would save ken and justin from ever having to see another martin lawrence or adam sandler fart fest, and save all the low-brow fans from having an aneurism when they see ken pooping all over “StepBrothers 2: The Revenge of Herpies.”

  30. Ken Hanke

    maybe the mx needs to get a “joe-schmo, crappy-movie reviewer.” That would save ken and justin from ever having to see another martin lawrence or adam sandler fart fest, and save all the low-brow fans from having an aneurism when they see ken pooping all over “StepBrothers 2: The Revenge of Herpies.”

    It’s an idea, but it has certain drawbacks. First off, with that in place, I’d never have seen things like Eurotrip and the first Harold and Kumar movie. However, the biggest thing is that it creates a kind of ivory tower scenario where your reviewers aren’t getting a very good overview of the movies today. I’m a firm believer that all critics should have that kind of overview. If you’d never seen an Adam Sandler film could you really get the good or sense of accomplishment out of Punch-Drunk Love>/i>? Or of Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction?

    Moreover, there’s a sizable portion of the readership who go straight for the bad reviews because they find them amusing. I like to believe that that’s because they actually do find the writing amusing, not that they enjoy the prospect of Justin or me squirming in a theater seat for two hours.

    In any case, we’re gonna cheese somebody somewhere along the line. Quite the most vitriolic personal mail I’ve received of late was from a viewer who decided that my inability to be enthused over Mamma Mia! clearly indicated that I needed psychiatric counselling. When I suggested that perhaps he needed some for his anger issues, he made a far more pointed suggestion. I let the matter drop.

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