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.