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Common Denominator

Ferrell, Reilly and supporting cast deliver a well-played loose concept comedy in “Step Brothers.”

Will Ferrell, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins and John C. Reilly in "Step Brothers."

Will Ferrell’s new movie, “Step Brothers,” (opening July 25) gets a lot of laughs by following an improvisation-inspired sketch comedy roadmap.

With co-star John C. Reilly and director Adam McKay, who co-wrote the story and screenplay with Ferrell, and an able supporting cast, “Step Brothers” also follows the time-honored formula of pitting addled main characters up against the real world (as in “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights”).

Ferrell and Reilly play two man-children paired together at first unwillingly when their respective single parents meet (and for the convenience of the plot) quickly marry and move in together. Richard Jenkins, as Reilly’s father, and Mary Steenburgen, as Ferrell’s mom, show perfect understanding of the tone that’s called for, never overplaying or underplaying anything, always getting just the right amount of conviction in their characters. Adam Scott, as Ferrell's successful real brother and a nemesis for the duo, also hits just the right tones.

The two leads play their characters, both still jobless and living with their parent, with complete commitment to their obliviousness, acting as though they were 12-year-olds only just past the point where the plot of the movie will no longer let them.

Told that their parents want to sell the house to take a sailing trip, Ferrell, in man-child mode, asks in totally credulous voice, “Is the house haunted?” Ferrell and Reilly also have a lot of fun with two scenes where they wreak havoc in the house because they’re sleepwalking.

The movie almost goes off the rails with mean-spiritedness at one point where Ferrell and Reilly push their long-suffering parents to the point that their marriage is threatened by having to cope with their antics; then end up locked in buffoonish combat in the yard of the house.

But McKay and company do bring “Step Brothers” back from this brink for the last act of the movie, which is also equally well-played as the stepbrothers magically take on responsible, adult personalities.

“Step Brothers” may not quite match “Elf” or “Old School” in the Will Ferrell pantheon, but it is another welcome entry in his string of formula comedies that do deliver just a little more.




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