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Wednesday, July 23, 2008 02:20 pm

Actors behaving badly

Step Brothers is best comedy of 2008 so far, and that’s not saying much

Step Brothers Rated R ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
Step Brothers Rated R ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

No doubt about it, the funny have fallen this summer — and it's no laughing matter. Despite the presence of proven high-profile talent at the movies this season, there's yet to be a successful comedy to grace the silver screen. Adam Sandler stumbled with the confused You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Mike Myers recycled old bits in the unsuccessful Love Guru, and Eddie Murphy cranked out another embarrassment with Meet Dave.

So to describe Adam McKay's Step Brothers as the best comedy of the year isn't saying much. Reuniting Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly from Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, this film features a plot as thin as a contact lens and a comedic premise that begins to fray at the 30-minute mark. Sure, there are some big laughs in the movie — how can there not be with so much comedic talent on board? — but you can't help but notice that everyone involved is coasting.

Dr. Richard Doback (Richard Jenkins) and Nancy Huff (Mary Steenburgen) are sixtysomethings about to enter their golden years when they unexpectedly meet and fall in love. They have a great many things in common, one of them being the fact that they both have middle-aged sons living at home. Richard's spawn, Dale (Reilly), is a wily freeloader who uses guilt to convince his dad that he should do nothing more than play Guitar Hero and eat pizza every day. Nancy's son Brennan (Ferrell) isn't much better. Traumatized by his brother while in high school, he refuses to venture far from his mother, who allows him to do nothing but wear retro T-shirts and pleasure himself while watching daytime TV.

The good life for these two slackers comes to abrupt end when their parents get married and they're forced to share a room. Bitter enemies at first, they soon bond when they discover, among other banal commonalities, that they would both sleep with John Stamos if they were women. They decide they'll be best friends, until their parents tell them that they must find jobs and move out within 30 days.

The movie is nothing more than an excuse for its stars to run through a litany of childish skits and antics, some successful, some not. The lengths to which Dale and Brennan go to upset each other, especially those involving a cherished drum set, are wonderfully crude and effective, as are the moments when they go out of their way to sabotage each other's job interviews. However, the shtick wears thin quickly.

I'm sure that Ferrell and Reilly had a great time on the film; their goofiness is infectious and makes some of the material work that otherwise wouldn't. Jenkins and Steenburgen aren't given much to do, but the veteran actress scores the funniest line I've heard in a movie all year. As Derek, Brennan's self-centered brother, Adam Scott is wonderfully self-absorbed, and Kathryn Hahn, as his long-suffering wife, steals every scene she's in.

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