Will Ferrell needs to grow up. That's not likely to happen, since the comedian has crafted a monster career playing emotionally stunted, spastic child-men in everything from Old School to Elf to Anchorman. It's damn hard to break up a winning formula. It's just that finally he — alongside his comic soulmate John C. Reilly — has made the definitive statement on arrested development. Here the two actors play overgrown, petulant teenagers in lumpy adult bodies, and they do it with such a charged, reckless, side-splitting abandon that you'll almost feel like you've never seen a ball-sack sight gag before. Step Brothers is so raucously hilarious that your ribs will file a harassment suit from being so vigorously tickled, at least for an hour or so. Eventually the gag wanes when the movie makes its third tired lap around the same premise, but by then you'll likely be too laughed-out to notice.
Ferrell and Reilly play a pair of ridiculously childish fortysomething losers, Brennan and Dale, who are forced out of their respective self-serving bubbles of domestic tranquility by the sudden marriage up of their formerly single parents. The parents (class acts Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins) are tweedy, NPR-loving intellectuals whose dream is to retire and tour the vineyards of the world on their yacht far from their embarrassing progeny. This news doesn't sit well with the already feuding dip-shit twins, who can't face such grown-up horrors as jobs and real lives. That's about as complicated as the plot gets, serving only as a sturdy backbone for gags.
At first, the two instant relatives square off for turf like squabbling bunkmates, with extended slap fights that climax in a baseball bat/golf-club-swinging double knockout. It's enemies at first sight, yet soon enough though they're bonding up in the tree house over their similar lifestyles, obsessions and cool junk like night vision goggles, samurai swords, and Dale's awesome collection of late '80s nudie mags.
Like any nerdy 12-year-olds, these bozos are beset by bullies, in Dale's case it's a literal pint-sized playground thug a third his age. Brennan has a more formidable rival in the form of his hyper-driven younger brother Derek, played to oily perfection by Adam Scott (the nurse in Knocked Up). He's such an obnoxious yuppie creep he forces his family to sing "Sweet Child O' Mine" in four part harmony, punctuates his speech with outdated hip-hop slang, and got a real estate license for "shiggles." Of course he's just a side-dish for the main course of watching Ferrell and Reilly ham it up. Director Adam McKay (Talladega Nights) overstuffs, and the third act grows as flabby as Ferrell's gut, but what proceeds it is some the year's funniest stuff, and that, as they say, is awesome.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].