News From Terre Haute, Indiana

At the Movies

July 25, 2008

Ferrell and Reilly step down with ‘Brothers’

The title is “Step Brothers.” You know, because there are two of them.

But Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are essentially playing the same person, which is the movie’s fundamental, irreparable flaw.

As 40-year-olds who’ve never left home and are forced to share a bedroom when their parents get married, Ferrell and Reilly are stuck in the same state of arrested development. There’s no odd-couple tension, no witty banter, just a prolonged, painfully unfunny game of one-upmanship in which each actor is trying to outdo the other in one-note obnoxiousness. You wouldn’t want to spend two hours with one of these guys, much less both.

Sure, they display slight personality differences — Ferrell’s Brennan wears vintage T-shirts with Pablo Cruise or The Judds on them, while Reilly’s Dale prefers Yoda — but they’re cut from the same kitschy cloth. They look alike, they talk alike. They share the same interest in dinosaurs, martial arts, bad TV, worse music and above all, crass put-downs. (Most of them can’t be repeated here, which is fine, because they’re not exactly zingers anyway.)

They immediately hate each other, eventually become best friends and then hate each other all over again. But regardless of the status of their relationship, the humorously awkward chemistry these actors shared as teammates in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” is long gone, because the script makes no room for it. And that’s strange, because Ferrell co-wrote the screenplay with his old friend, director Adam McKay, with whom he collaborated on the NASCAR comedy. (Reilly shares a story-by credit here.)

Watching “Step Brothers,” though, it doesn’t take long to realize that their creative process consisted of sitting around, cracking each other up with adolescent gags, and then writing it all down. Whether the rest of the world will be doubled over with laughter seems irrelevant — and that insularity is ultimately alienating. (A couple of funny lines do pop up here and there.)

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