Judd Apatow gets around. The producer/writer/director is a deviant of the comedy genre: if it’s funny, he’s probably had his way with it. In his ever-expanding portfolio he’s covered freaks, geeks, perpetual virgins and accidental pregnancy – and he’s done it with heart. At some point he was bound to drop the ball.
It is worryingly easy to relate to this film. You’ll find yourself inadvertently sniggering at the rude parts as the film invites you to get way, way down to its level. And who wouldn’t want to spend their time microwaving nachos and watching Trisha?
Who would have thought that having middle-aged, live at home sons would be the makings of a perfect marriage? Or at least, that’s how it starts out when Nancy Huff and Dr Robert Doback (the lovely Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins) get it on following a sexually-charged hearing aid conference. Yes, really. When they discover each other’s 40-year-old secrets they swiftly marry and move themselves and their ridiculously spoilt sons in under the same roof.
It turns out to be a post-pubescent recipe for disaster. Dale (John C Reilly) manages his own baseball league – fantasy, that is. Brennan (Will Ferrell) is the ‘song bird’ of his generation – and hasn’t sung since the disastrous ‘man-gina’ incident back in high school. It’s a love/hate relationship as the step brothers take tentative steps towards accepting who is responsible for the inevitable breakdown of their parents’ marriage – anyone but themselves, of course.
The film reunites director Adam McKay along with producer Apatow, Ferrell (who co-writes with McKay) and Reilly. Their last joint project was lukewarm racing romp Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Idiotic, middle-aged men are a bit of an ongoing theme for them with Step Brothers, of course, being the ultimate example. It’s what Apatow and crew do best, but dedicating a whole film to their pet character-type is a bit like gorging yourself on your favourite dessert: sooner or later, you’re going to want an apple.
It is worryingly easy to relate to this film. You’ll find yourself inadvertently sniggering at the rude parts as the film invites you to get way, way down to its level. And who wouldn’t want to spend their time microwaving nachos and watching Trisha? Apart from students, of course, who will probably wonder when the two are going to stop all this sensible stuff and start getting really juvenile.
Ferrell clearly has a bad influence on Riley who held himself back in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (another Apatow), falling just short of outrageous and coming seriously close to good clean fun. This is not the case with the boys’ characters in Step Brothers. There is nothing wholesome about tea-bagging a drum kit.
The film loses its edge slightly when the pair become united through the shared hatred of Brennan’s arsehole brother, Derek Huff, played by the mannequin-turned-actor Adam Scott. Along with his Ideal Homes family, he provides some of the greatest moments of the film. His entrance alone is worth the ticket price: a Von Trap-style sing-along to Guns N’ Roses 'Sweet Child O’ Mine' – second only to the toe-curling scene where Dale and Brennan pitch their song ‘Boats and Hoes’ to Derek and his business buds. It’s these play-offs between Derek and the title-pair where the film really excels.
But when the bushy haired duo are left to their own devices, their tantruming gets a bit tiring and you’ll find some primal instinct fighting to shout the words ‘Get a job!’ at the screen. Without the family around to bounce off, the man-child act becomes uncomfortable – like the whole of Robin Williams’ Jack – and it’s in these parts where the heart that is evident in Apatow’s other offerings seems the most absent.
After about 100 minutes, the film belatedly seems to realise some sort of conclusion is expected of it. So it finally stops dicking around, brushes off the nacho crumbs and arrives quickly at a pat conclusion hoping that no one realises that it’s missing a vital segment explaining how it actually got there. Now it’s on with suits and off with the Chewbacca masks as the pair can now start doing grown-up things, like selling their night vision goggles for car insurance.
It might not have the free-spirited improv of its older brother, Knocked Up, or the sweet centre of Superbad but it is funny, however dirty the laughter. It might be the runt of the pack where Apatow’s CV is concerned, but someone has got to be – in this case anyway – the big kid that all the little kids beat up on.
Step Brothers is shallow, needy and has more balls than brains. Still, if the film has one message it’s that under every grown-man’s business suit is a Star Wars T-shirt, and that’s a sweet enough thought to leave with.
Step Brothers is on general release now.