Step Brothers belongs to the post-modernish school of comedy that seems to be all the rage nowadays. These comedies focus on a concept – some outrageous idea that sounds very funny in theory, which can be outlined quickly in a few bullet points. My collection of geek friends did this all the time in high school – we’d crack each other up with ideas for sketches. Saturday Night Live has done this well, and it has also done it not-so-well; the genre is limited by the transient nature of the ideas themselves, and the fact that there is usually not much to hang a story from. Too often, the sketches go on too long, and they are not edited ruthlessly enough (time must be filled, after all…) Ivan Reitman solved this problem somewhat – his comedies from the 1980’s started with a sketch and then introduced a second-act story, where the sketch was basically repeated in context. Meatballs and Stripes are good examples, and Ghostbusters was perhaps the apex of this approach: it was one of the few concept/sketch comedies that held up from beginning to end, and the second-act payoffs were satisfying as opposed to being lesser imitations of their earlier incarnations.
There is enough funny material in Step Brothers for a two-minute preview, and they used all of it when they put together the coming attractions trailer. Unfortunately, the post-modernish comedy has jettisoned the old-school idea of a second act story; instead, every idea the writers or actors (or the sound guys, or the gaffers) seem to have had is put into the film. Talk about needing some editing… The other characteristic of the new school is that no subject is taboo – anything goes, and the people who make these comedies seem to think that because they are being so outrageous, the audience will have no choice but to laugh. In a way, they’re right – if we don’t laugh, the joke’s on us because we were snookered into spending a portion of our lives enduring their movie.
Here’s the deal: Step Brothers is about Will Farrell and John C. Reilly as forty-ish men who still live with their parents. When their parents get married, they become… step brothers. If that sounds funny to you, there are a few jokes in the film that might amuse you; otherwise, you’re out of luck. There’s a slapstick routine involving sleepwalking that goes on far too long, and there’s another bit involving the makeshift construction of a bunk bed and the consequences thereof (it was in the preview.) Ivan Reitman might have given the second half some form, but it wouldn’t have changed the fact that the concept is all there is. Barring one potentially hilarious sequence where the Will Farrell character sings a song that moves the guests at a party to consider major life changes (the scene is so poorly directed and edited that the joke is crushed) I left this movie feeling a bit dumber, as if portions of my intelligence and taste had been snuffed out.