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Frat Pack Tribute Movie Review: Step Brothrs

Review by Andrew Hunt

Are people getting sick of Will Ferrell? The question has certainly been asked -- in reviews, to the blogs and back again. And it is certainly a valid one: his previous effort, the basketball comedy Semi-Pro was both a box office failure and a painful watch. Seeing Ferrell lose his footing was not exactly pleasant.

So has he returned to the well in his latest farce Step Brothers? Quite possibly -- but thank the heavens he did. Re-teaming with director and co-writer Adam McKay was a step in the right direction: as was adding his newest collaborator John C Reilly. With the last piece of the puzzle obviously being Judd Apatow, the super-producer behind his two most successful films, Ferrell has set himself up for yet another box office hit.

In Step Brothers, Ferrell and Reilly play just that: two overly coddled and vastly immature 40-year-olds who become forced siblings when their single parents (Richard Jenkins and Marry Steenburgen) marry and move in together. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue. The boys use everything from fisticuffs to the disrespect of a certain drum kit to push each others buttons. Eventually, however, the two find common ground and become best friends. The premise is a proverbial breeding ground for the improvisational masterwork that Ferrell has built his career on.

As a movie, Step Brothers ebbs and flows with an uneven script: the rambunctious first act meanders into a dull second act, where a common conflict is introduced far too late. After forty-five minutes of irreverence, the attempt at compassion feels abrupt. A plot barely exists here, just more of a premise followed by a few story curves. However, the success of a movie like this has nothing to do with plot; it's all about the comic bits that are strung together. And the comic bits in Step Brothers are consistently laugh-aloud hilarious. In fact, joke for joke, the film has a better first act than even Anchorman, Ferrell's most heralded film. Had Step Brothers kept the pace...

Well, one can only imagine.

There's no question here that Reilly and Ferrell are an impenetrable force of comedy. Each scene works as a mini-exercise in improv, with the two stalwarts consistently delivering. Their chemistry is undeniable, and vastly overshadows the scenes the duo shared in Talladega Nights. There's nothing quite like watching two comedic minds work as one, especially when the two minds are as in sync as Ferrell's and Reilly's. It's easy to tell that they share the same sense of humor, the same tendencies and the same timing. Even in their weaker moments (which, thankfully, there are few of), just watching the two interact can be entertaining in itself.

Reilly and Ferrell don't get the whole spotlight, however. Taking a page from Apatow's book, McKay gives each member of the cast free reign to flex their improv muscles. Steenburger really shines playing Ferrell's enabling mother. Playing Ferrell's younger brother, Derek, is the hilarious Adam Scott -- young, successful and a consummate dillweed. Frat Pack fans will recognize him as the male nurse from Apatow's Knocked Up. Rob Riggle is also great as Derek's corporate second-in-command, a blockheaded bully who yells cryptic team-spirit phonemes with desperate urgency (pow!). Also, as if we couldn't live without him, the venerable Matt Walsh delivers on a great cameo with the "Who-knew-he-was-still-alive?" Horatio Sanz. Although, on the subject of cameos, the appearance of a highly regarded Frat Pack friend falls sadly short.

Step Brothers success lies in the chemistry of the cast. Ferrell and Reilly are unwavering in their conviction, and film wins because of it. Apatow can add another notch to his belt, and Ferrell can breath a sigh of relief knowing he's still on top.

*****

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