July 31, 2008

Stepbrothers (07/31/08)

Lettergrade: F

In Stepbrothers, Will Ferrell and John C. Reily play 40 year-old stepbrothers. Normally this is the part where I'd start to describe the plot a little, but that's pretty much it. The crippling vacuum that dwells where a detectable story-line might have been is filled by many scenes that all work off this same rudimentary joke, and the result a pretty painful 100 minutes. Believe me, I enjoy intentionally stupid movies as much as the next dude, but at the same time there's nothing more tragic than an expensive cinematic jerk-off session for some talented actors who have previously been pretty funny.

It's the third movie that Ferrell has co-written with director (and former Saturday Night Live writer) Adam McKay. The other two were Talladegah Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, which had an absurd slickness that I really enjoyed, and before that Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, which I found frustratingly random and somewhat anemic. The key difference between the two comes down to the presence of a solid hook which drives the plot. My contention is that there doesn't have to be a terribly original or profound device, mind you, just something to keep the silliness moving in a particular direction. Note that Ferrell has made several sports comedies now with plot trajectories virtually identical to that of Talladegah Nights: In Blades Of Glory, Semi-Pro and Kicking And Screaming he plays an arrogant sports star who loses everything, and then must find some way to overcome his issues reclaim his former status having gained valuable perspective on life along the way. It's the most predictable, by-the-numbers horse-shit imaginable, and the screenwriters involved should be ashamed of themselves. NEVERTHELESS, I will say that it is also a basic plot outline which, in spite of its over-use, manages to be somewhat effective in terms of turning what would otherwise be a collection of loosely associated skits into film stories that at least have some shape.

Moving on, though, it's a little disappointing to see John C. Reily, who was so good in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, back playing a slightly beefier version of the supporting roles that he was playing a couple years ago. Another thing that I don't really like in these movies is that there is always, ALWAYS a "wacky cameo" from another active member of the Judd Apatow universe at some point, the modern-day equivalent of having Laverine and Shirley pay a visit to Al's Diner on Happy Days or giving Norm and Cliff from Cheers a layover in the Wings airport. This time, it's Seth Rogen, who has a genuinely amusing bit part to play, but I still think it's needlessly distracting.

Other issues I have with flicks like this are when characters wind up doing something that completely violates the few parameters the movie had bothered to lay out for them. In the film's flaccid attempt at some plot-progression late in the picture, Ferrell asks his brother, whom it has been established he hates more than anyone and anything else in the world, for a job at his company. Although Ferrell is in a fairly tough spot at that point in the movie, it just seems so improbably contrary to everything else we've learned about the guy previously. Things like this really shouldn't bother me, particularly when we're talking about a movie that aims as low as Stepbrothers does, but even a movie that's not intended to be taken seriously needs to take it's own character development seriously on some level. Otherwise what's the point?

Skip puerile junk like this. Don't even rent it.

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