As insisted upon by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, Step Brothers is the final chapter to their "Middle-Aged Man Trilogy". It concludes what began in Anchorman and Talladega Nights : The Ricky Bobby Story, which incidentally began a new breed of loyal and obsessive scene quoters for both of those films. (I have two pals who can't make it through a day of e-mails without getting off an Anchorman reference. The cutest part is that they know I've only seen the movie once - and don't know the quotes like they do - yet they still send them to me thinking it's just hilarious!).
But the difference between Step Brothers and the two films before it is that Brennan (Farrell) and Dale (Reilly) aren't caricatures the way Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby are. In fact, Step Brothers flirts with becoming Will Ferrell's most profound comedy because it speaks to the phenomenon of post-70's man children, adults arrested in adolescence because of the well-intentioned privileges piled upon them by hard working parents.
Dale unironically wears tucked in Return of the Jedi and Bruce Lee t-shirts, sports a Heavy Metal poster on his wall, and worships the gaudy Neil Pert-style drum kit in the guest room. Brennan appreciates the radio hits of Bonnie Raitt, collects samurai swords, and gets sexual release from cable TV aerobics instructors.
Where Anchorman and Talladega Nights simply set out to lampoon two types of recognizable industries, Step Brothers gets at something that resembles a social comedy. But then... there is a problem. And that problem is director Adam McKay. It's special to see Dale's train wreck of a first kiss and Brennan asking his therapist for domestic living tips instead of emotional advice, but then McKay counters that with his same ol' tired jabs at suburbia (an Outback Steakhouse joke, and a SUV joke) and the white-male corporate world (the characters of Brennan's upper class brother and his meat head sidekick are just plain dumb). These missteps make you wonder : is McKay even aware of the opportunity he has in front of him?
It would serve Ferrell well to find a director who can balance his mild-to-madcap humor with a little punctuating sincerity. While not your typical Ferrell comedy, that moment in Stranger Than Fiction where he serenades Maggie Gyllenhaal to the tune of Wreckless Eric's "(I'd Go The) Whole Wide World" is not only a scene stopper, but a moment that reveals something extraordinary about a character we knew little about up to that point. Same goes for a scene in Winter Passing where Ferrell, an aspiring musician, conquers stage fright in front of his crush, Zooey Deschanel. In comparison, Brennan singing opera in Step Brothers is mostly played as a goof, undercut even more when it's followed by some additional juvenile misfires by McKay.
Still, watching Reilly and Ferrell riff low-brow on innumerable wiener & ball jokes should satisfy that unguarded goober in all of us.