- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2008

Some comedies make us laugh with precise physical timing, clever tweaking of social mores or dialogue requiring a nimble mind to untangle.

Not “Step Brothers.”

The team behind “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” reunites for a dumber-than-dumb comedy that eschews anything so civilized.

It’s like watching someone get kicked in the groin for 90 minutes, but every blow induces laughter.

“Step Brothers” co-star Will Ferrell often trades on his man-child identity, so his role here is the next logical step in his on-screen devolution. He plays Brennan, a 39-year-old loser who still lives at home with his caring ma, Nancy (Mary Steenburgen).

She shakes up Brennan’s world by marrying Robert (Richard Jenkins), who has a 40-year-old son, Dale (John C. Reilly), in a similar state of arrested development. The duo never progressed emotionally beyond their 10th birthdays.

The families merge a la “The Brady Bunch,” but the results are anything but harmonious. Dale and Brennan resent being forced to share the same bedroom, so they start attacking each other in the grossest ways possible. (Don’t ask what Brennan does to Dale’s beloved drum set.) Robert and Nancy try laying down the law, but their new rules give the boys a common enemy. They quickly realize they have more in common than just their favorite dinosaur (velociraptor) or preferred non-nudie magazine (Good Housekeeping).

Their bond deepens when Brennan’s unctuous brother Derek (Adam Scott) enters the picture.

It’s easy to predict that “Step Brothers” won’t sustain this high level of manic energy. An early sequence where Brennan and Dale demolish the family kitchen while sleepwalking seems a sign that the film doesn’t know how to follow its own formula. But it quickly recovers, finding novel ways for the brothers to cause more harm to themselves.

None of this works without the reteaming of Mr. Ferrell and Mr. Reilly. The former’s comic credentials need no burnishing here, but it’s Mr. Reilly’s performance that raises the stakes. Much like Jeff Daniels outclassing Jim Carrey in “Dumb and Dumber,” Mr. Reilly outperforms his more established comic co-star.

Check out Mr. Reilly’s awkward first kiss with Derek’s wife, Alice (Kathryn Hahn), easily the ugliest buss in movie history. And Mr. Reilly turns flatulence into performance art. Gross? Oh, yeah. But even flatulence humor can kill when executed well.

“Step Brothers” is consistently that coarse, but it’s staggering how much mileage the film gets from its medley of F-bombs and more creative cursing. Mr. Ferrell’s recent flop “Semi-Pro” offered but a fraction of its vulgar inspiration.

“Step Brothers” might wipe a good 10 points off your IQ, but you’ll be laughing too hard to care.

★★★

TITLE: “Step Brothers”

RATING: R (Pervasive adult language, comic violence and sexual situations)

CREDITS: Directed by Adam McKay. Written by Mr. McKay andWill Ferrell.

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

WEB SITE: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/stepbrothers/index.html

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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