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'Step brothers' (***)

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Posted: Friday, August 1, 2008 10:00 pm

Will Ferrell was the best thing to happen to "Saturday Night Live" in the past two decades, and when he left, his legions of fans expected the actor to bring the same comic energy and freshness to his big-screen projects as he brought to the "SNL" skits.

And while he hasn't completely bombed out like so many other former Not Ready for Primetime Players, he has disappointed fans by delivering a bunch of half-hearted performances in consistently mediocre films. (When an actor is doing better work on a Web site like than he is in feature films, something is amiss.) I mean, how many lame sports comedies can one person do before they've officially sold out?

At the very least, "Step Brothers" represents something different for Ferrell, who at this point in his career is in dire need of truly original material. And even if this is a one-joke film in which Ferrell and co-star John C. Reilly do little besides act like feuding 8-year-olds for an hour-and-a-half, at least it's an amusing premise, and it is a departure.

Thanks to the R rating, Ferrell (who co-wrote the film with director Adam McKay) was able to let loose on screen, and the insanity that ensues almost makes you forgive the actor for "Semi-Pro" and "Blades of Glory."

Ferrell stars as Brennan, a 40-year-old man who, psychologically and emotionally, never made it past adolescence. Unemployed, he still lives with his mom, Nancy (the incredible, non-aging Mary Steenburgen), and spends his days masturbating to cable television. His insolated world is disturbed when his mom marries Robert (Richard Jenkins), whose son, Dale (Reilly), is just as stunted as Brennan.

Forced to live together as step-brothers, the two begin as bitter enemies but soon find common ground and become the best of friends. Still, they refuse to grow up and find jobs, and their shenanigans threaten to tear their parents' relationship apart.

Granted, not all of it is funny, and about half the jokes fall completely flat. Yet the jokes that do work are so audacious, so aggressively stupid and juvenile, that after a while you just have to sit back and roll with it. By the time Brennan buries Dale alive in their parents' front yard, I was prepared to accept the material in the spirit in which it's presented.

"Step Brothers" is lewd, mindless and usually goes for the obvious gag, but with so few comedies these days willing to go for broke with adult-oriented humor, you have to learn to at least appreciate the effort.

Even if you don't dig the film's crass, mean-spirited nature, there's no denying that the cast gives it their all. Ferrell and Reilly share good chemistry and exhibit great comic timing as the on-again-off-again BFFs, and as Brennan's over-achieving, Tom Cruise-esque younger brother, actor Adam Scott sets the stage for some of the movie's biggest laughs.

They all make for a great team, and if Ferrell had crafted a screenplay that offered the viewer more than variations on the same one joke, "Step Brothers" could have been the best comedy of the year. As it stands, it's just the best comedy of the summer thus far.

"Step Brothers" is rated R for sex, nudity, language, violence and general crudeness.



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