Although I’m a fan of its Nascar-skewering shenanigans and manchild hilarity, ’Talladega Nights’ is by no means a flawless comedy or a timeless classic. Even so, I’ll always remember it as the film that forged an unstoppable comic pairing between two unlikely partners: Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. Seemingly born to share the screen, exchange the same bewildered expressions, and offer the same manchild musings, Ferrell and Reilly saved ‘Talladega Nights’ from its terribly clichéd screenplay and transformed it from a dry buddy comedy into comic and box office gold. To say I had high expectations for their follow-up project would be a gross understatement.
‘Step Brothers’ tells the dysfunctional tale of Brennan Huff (Ferrell), an immature, egotistical dolt who hasn’t held a steady job for years and still lives with his mother, Nancy (Mary Steenburgen). Brennan rules his house with an Xbox thumb until Nancy marries Robert (Richard Jenkins), a man whose equally-stunted middle-aged son, Dale (Reilly), lives with her as well. When the newlyweds move in together, Brennan and Dale are forced to cohabitate and begin fighting for the same attention, all while declaring their fierce hatred for the other. Yet as their animosity flourishes, a close bond emerges that transforms the two warring step brothers into best friends.
There are scenes in ‘Step Brothers’ that nearly put me on my knees. There were times I was laughing so hard that sound literally stopped coming out of my mouth. And every time I’d get it under control, a drum-set tussle or a battle of wits would leave me in a shambles yet again. The film features several unforgettable gags and priceless battles between Ferrell and Reilly that caught me so off guard I couldn’t help but make an absolute fool of myself. The sleepwalking assaults, the live burial, the joint job interview, the Prestige Worldwide presentation… I could go on and on. If ‘Step Brothers’ wasn’t trying so desperately to be a cohesive film -- if it were just a series of online shorts or televised SNL-style sketches -- I’d be pointing everyone that would listen in its direction.
Unfortunately, the film as a whole is far less remarkable than its spontaneous standout scenes might suggest. ‘Step Brothers’ offers little more than a trite, predictable, and mind-numbingly sappy story about acceptance and achievement. The plot sways as the performers see fit -- there’s no internal logic, no sense of reality, and no admirable qualities that make you want to root for Brennan, Dale, or anyone else for that matter. It wouldn’t bother me as much if it were meant to be a weaving, ham-fisted comedy, but the film trumps up so many overdeveloped messages and tired morals that it’s clear McKay and company weren’t satisfied with making an aimless farce. It’s this tonal inconsistency that leads to several lifeless scenes that rob the film of momentum, quite a few annoying developments that undermine any semblance of character progression, and increasingly repetitive jokes that, by the end of the film, made me want to take a permanent break from Brennan and Dale’s misadventures.
I’m sure there are people who will love every minute of ‘Step Brothers’ – comedy junkies who will look past its shortcomings and focus on the gut-busters that litter the film from beginning to end. Sadly, even as a diehard Ferrell apologist, I can’t recommend this one. The film’s great if you’re just looking for a few easy laughs, but it rarely showcases the wit, focus, and precise pacing of the best comedies on the market. Give it a shot, but brace yourself for the worst. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy ‘Step Brothers’ for what it is and survive the sudden and crushing dissatisfaction I experienced as the credits rolled.
Sharp, clean, and detailed, the 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer Sony has granted ‘Step Brothers’ looks great considering the bland visuals and flat colors McKay tosses onto the screen. Yes, the palette is washed out… and yes, skintones look sickly at times and milky at others, but the otherwise impressive picture doesn’t suffer from any serious technical shortcomings. Textures are well defined, pores and hair are perfectly rendered, and every object, no matter how insignificant, is clearly visible in Brennan’s room. Contrast is strong as well, offering comfortable whites and deep blacks that often produce a relatively convincing, three-dimensional image. Moreover, delineation is revealing, there isn’t a hint of DNR or edge enhancement, and the transfer isn’t hindered by the sort of artifacting, source noise, or grain inconsistencies that plague the standard DVD.
’Step Brothers’ isn’t the most attractive film to hit the market, but it’s tough to criticize a transfer that presents a faithful rendering of its director’s intentions. While it won’t turn heads like some other notable high-def comedies, it also won’t disappoint fans or leave videophiles with many legitimate complaints.
’Step Brothers’ arrives on Blu-ray with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track, but its chatty, front-heavy soundfield and uninspired sound design prevents it from being as impressive as it could be. Dialogue is crisp, clear, and well prioritized, dynamics are solid, and the rear speakers often deliver convincing ambience and realistic interior acoustics on cue. However, average LFE support, intermittent soundfield inconsistencies, and problematic directionality continually distracted me from the experience. I know the on-screen action couldn’t ever stack up against a guns-n-explosions extravaganza, but there are plenty of haphazard spills, slapstick crashes, and toppling bunk beds in the film that simply don’t pack the sort of sonic punch I listen for on every Blu-ray disc.
As comedies and their audio tracks go, ‘Step Brothers’ doesn’t stand out, nor does it go above and beyond in any way. Fans of the film will probably shrug their shoulders and say I’m just being too harsh, but anyone objectively evaluating the audio package will probably agree that it falls short.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Step Brothers’ ports over all of the supplemental content from the DVD version and presents the video content in high definition. All of the material tends to get repetitive after a while, but many of the deleted scenes and extensions are better than the film itself and the disc has far more behind-the-scenes featurettes than other comparable comedies on the market. All in all, it’s a great little set that adds a lot of value to an otherwise average movie.
’Step Brothers’ is a hilarious but seriously-flawed comedy that never reaches the heights of Ferrell’s best work. Thankfully, the Blu-ray edition is a bit more impressive. It features a sharp and faithful video transfer, an above average (albeit underwhelming) TrueHD audio track, and a generous collection of supplements that are arguably better than the film itself. I would definitely watch the film itself before making a final decision, but this release is just strong enough to warrant your consideration.