Child's play



Will Ferrell returns to the same well ... again

By Matt Brunson





STARS Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly

The battle for the title of Hollywood's Ultimate Man-Child finds Will Ferrell finally overtaking Adam Sandler. While Sandler plays an actual adult (well, sort of) in the recent You Don't Mess With the Zohan, Ferrell again adopts an infantile pose, this time in the service of Step Brothers. The law of diminishing returns -- to say nothing of Step Brothers' cringe-inducing trailer -- suggests that this should represent the nadir of Ferrell's efforts, but the truth is that he's done worse. For the most part, this is crap, yet it's rescued from the bottom of the sewer by several choice quips as well as a surprising sweetness at the center of its storyline involving family dysfunction.

Ferrell and Talladega Nights partner John C. Reilly star as Brennan and Dale, two 40-ish men still living at home with their single parents (Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins, respectively). When said parents decide to marry each other, the two "kids" are forced to not only live under the same roof but also share a bedroom. Initially combative, they become best friends after they're united by their mutual hatred of Brennan's smug, perfectionist brother Derek (Adam Scott).

As usual, Ferrell doesn't know where to draw the line when it comes to childish antics on screen (the sleepwalking segments involving Brennan and Dale are especially exasperating), and the sight of Brennan dragging his exposed nutsack across Dale's precious drum set serves as an example of the sophomoric levels to which this film will stoop. But the theme of how parents and children will often fail each other carries some startling resonance (thanks largely to Steenburgen's delicate performance), and every time we write off the dialogue as just a string of schoolyard taunts, along comes an unexpected zinger (Dale's description of Brennan's singing voice being a cross "between Fergie and Jesus" is priceless).

Step Brothers is clearly a step up from this past spring's Ferrell offering, Semi-Pro (and, for my money, Blades of Glory as well), but please, guys, it's time to grow up and give this formula a rest.

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