Step Brothers Review

Will Ferrell’s career has hit a bit of a creative slump lately, Blades of Glory and Semi-Pro were middling at best, and while Blades managed to muster almost $150million at the Box Office, Semi-Pro couldn’t even manage a third of that. Talladega Nights was reasonably well relieved by critics, but received heavy criticism from film forum posters. If you ignore Stranger Than Fiction – which doesn’t really count as a Will Ferrell comedy – you have to go back to Anchorman for the closest Ferrell has come to achieving greatness. I have a soft spot for Talladega Nights, but was so let down by Blades and Semi-Pro, that when Step Brothers hit cinemas it was met with a big dose of indifference from me. In fact, if it wasn’t for DVDTimes and the wonderful perks of free check-discs, I may not have bothered with the film at all.

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Brennan Huff is an idle, socially inept 39yr old still living at home with his mother Nancy, Dale Doback is another idle, socially inept 40yr old living at home with his father Robert. When Robert and Nancy meet at a convention, sparks fly and soon Dale and Brennan are faced with a complete change in lifestyle and having to live with each other in the same home. It’s hate at first sight, and their bickering only subsides when they unite against a common enemy when Brennan’s obnoxious younger brother Derek visits to meet his new stepfather. Newly bonded, but still immature incompetents, the brothers' refusal to grow up soon puts a strain on Robert and Nancy’s marriage, and the two step brothers are faced with having to take responsibility of their own lives once and for all.

As you can see from the synopsis, there’s very little story behind Step Brothers which, if you’ll permit me going into rant mode a little early – has been a persistent problem with Hollywood comedies over the last two years or so. Ferrell seems to be the main offender of starring in comedies that are all concept and no substance. Blades of Glory was a one joke film, Semi-Pro was wildly erratic, and now Ferrell has returned to the Apatow/Mckay teat that produced Anchorman, but it still suffers from the superficiality of his more recent efforts. Step Brothers' narrative is at times so derivative that you feel like Mckay and Ferrell were ticking off lists as they wrote it. There’s the comedy sex scene, comedy fight scene, comedy relationship break up, comedy partial nudity scene, comedy gross out scene, etc, etc that makes the film seem almost workmanlike in its approach.

It’s a strange dichotomy, because Ferrell is genuinely one of the funniest comedians working in Hollywood when it comes to complete absurdity, and Step Brothers certainly delivers in this department in places. There’s a great left field gag where Brennan and Dale suffer from a form of sleep-walking where they revert to their pure basest caveman instincts, and just roam around spouting gibberish and wrecking things, and the mere sight of John C.Reilly walking around in Y-fronts is inherently funny. Step Brother’s script is quite sharp in places, making rather astute observations on today’s neo-yuppie culture, and an ongoing gag revolving around Brennan’s almost robotically serious psychiatrist is a comedy highlight.

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Ironically though, it’s the humour based around the main concept of the film: 2 middle aged guys acting and being treated like teenagers at home, that seems the most inconsistent. Sure it’s amusing watching Reilly and Ferrell go at it with gusto at first, but quickly it’s tiring, and when Dale and Brennan fall out again later on in the film you really feel like a mouse running on a wheel. The comedy is also played way too forcefully at times, stripping any subtlety out of the humour that may have been there in the first place.

The finalé manages to rescue the film a bit for me, low key and full of wry observations – including a montage of character thoughts that is brilliantly abstract - and the “the f*****g Catalina wine mixer” catchphrase is bound to be quoted by more than a few fans of the film.

Presentation

Sony have provided 2 edits of Step Brothers on this BD-50 Blu-ray disc. There’s the US Theatrical Cut or an Extended Edition that adds almost 8 minutes to the film, which is mostly just little extensions to quite a few scenes from the Theatrical cut. The big stand out new scene is a second sex scene between Dale and Alice that actually partially occurs in front of the whole family eating dinner!

I was quite impressed with Sony’s presentation of Pineapple Express on Blu-ray, so had high standards for Step Brothers, which is presented in the film’s original 2.35:1 ratio using the AVC codec. I can’t say those high standards were met, but overall this is a pleasing transfer that just suffers from a few deficiencies. First the good: contrast is nicely balanced, some scenes are highly exposed and have some stark contrast, while others are underexposed and look quite flat, but the contrast always seems to echo the intentions of the director. Brightness is equally solid, with good shadow detail, but there are problems with darker scenes that I’ll discuss later on.

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Colour reproduction is also pretty good, although skin tones vary quite a bit throughout the film. In some scenes they look quite natural then for many others they look a bit rich, making everyone look like they’ve got a strong tan. There are also some bright outdoor exteriors were the tones are quite golden. I’m not sure if this is down to Mckay not paying much attention to the colour balance, or if the inconsistency lies with Sony. Will Ferrell tends to come off the worse with this because of his blondish brown hair, just check out how he looks in the job interview scene with Seth Rogen. I’ve read some reviews that have described the look of Step Brothers as quite bland, but I think this is quite harsh and some scenes do look bright with striking colour, this Blu-ray reproduces those colours very well indeed.

The AVC encode is generally very good, the video has a reasonably high bit rate that averages out at 22.84Mbps, and the only digital noise I could find was that of the low-level variety in some of the darker areas of the image, but you need a big screen and really be straining to find it. The print used is almost spotless, just random nicks and pops appear sporadically throughout. Image detail is pleasing, although I wouldn’t say that this is a super-sharp HD presentation. There are some medium shots with people on opposing sides of the frame in the foreground and background that look quite blurry in places, but I’m pretty confident this is down to Mckay not changing the lenses (as he owns up to this on the commentary).

There’s a light layer of grain throughout the film that I wouldn’t say is as well defined as, say in the Pineapple Express transfer, and for many scenes that layer becomes quite strong, giving the film a film-like texture. DNR doesn’t appear to be a problem, with fine detail accounted for in the crevices and creases in Reilly and Ferrell’s faces, but poor old Mary Steenburgen’s face has been lifted so tight you could almost think she’d been hit with a DNR nuke.

Now for my main problem with this transfer: Black levels are inconsistent and deeper shadows frequently appear quite blue-ish throughout the film, which can be quite off-putting. A good example of this is in the scene near the start when Brennan and Dale first have dinner together, I’ve included a grab above where the back of John C. Reilly exhibits very dark blue shadows. Another startling example is when Brennan and Dale have just been beaten up by schoolkids and Nancy is consoling them, just look at how wildly the hue changes in her outfit from a bluey-violet tinge to a more orangey-red in this side-by-side frame step grab:

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Sony have provided Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks in English, German, and Italian. Seeing as I can’t understand a lick of the latter two I’ll just comment on the English track, which won’t become anyone’s reference track to show of their HD amps, but it does a good job with a fairly undemanding film. Dialogue is crisp and clear, with deep bass which renders Richard Jenkins’ growly voice quite richly. There’s a lot of screaming in the film but the audio rarely tears. The soundtrack is handled expressively with clear dynamics and solid bass, and while the soundstage isn’t really that expansive given the nature of the film, the stereo front and rears kick in well enough when needed.

Optional subtitles are provided in English, English SDH, German, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Swedish, and Turkish. There is also a DD5.1 English Audio Descriptive Service track.

Extras

There’s a good selection of extra features on this disc, I’ll just list each one and give a brief rundown/review.

All extra features are presented in high quality full 1080p in either 4:3, 1.78:1 or 2.40:1, which will be stated below. A choice of optional English, German, Italian, Dutch subtitles are provided on all extra features except for the Boats ’N Hoes Music Video Editor.

Commentary with Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Adam McKay, Special Guest Baron Davis and Scored by Jon Brion: This is something a little different, Ferrell, Reilly and McKay all perform the commentary as a musical, with Jon Brion on hand to score. Surprisingly it’s McKay who takes to this with the most gusto and many of the songs are frequently hilarious, although thankfully they don’t sing non-stop throughout and take frequent long pauses to concentrate on more conventional commentary work. Later on they are joined by NBA star Baron Davis and take the commentary off on a sporting tangent as they grill him with a barrage of questions, which he reciprocates with questions about their films, and even joins in on two songs. This is a really fun commentary, as you’d expect from 3 very funny guys, and despite being mostly mucking about they still manage to cover a decent amount of information on the film’s shoot.

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Boats ‘n Hoes Music Video Editor – 4:3 – (01m:00s): Another rather unique feature, where you are given a one minute edit of the Boats ‘N Hoes video and gives you selection of 9 angles from which you can direct your own custom edit of the video, which can then be saved if you’re set up for saving content.

Extended & Alternate Scenes – 2.40:1 – (17m:19s): Five extended/alternate scenes here, none of which are as strong as the scenes in the final film, but there are a few laughs to be had in this featurette – particularly in the last scene, which is an extended exchange between Brennan and Randy, who are always good value together.

Line-O-Rama – 2.40:1 – (05m:55s): Rapid fire montage of alternate takes from the film. I actually felt sorry for little Elizabeth Yozamp (who plays Derek’s daughter: Tiffany), as she clearly put in a good performance but almost all her dialogue is cut from the US theatrical Edit (and she’s not given much more to say in the Extended either). There are also a few repeating jokes that were completely dropped from the film, they really should have left Richard Jenkins’ increasingly exasperated cries of “I’m a medical doctor!!!” in, particularly the shot when he leaps into the air in a fit of piqué.

Gag Reel – 2.40:1 - (04m:15s): Same as Line-O-Rama, but gag takes instead. This is a great gag track with lots of funny alternate lines. Watching John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell cracking each other up is sometimes funnier than the scenes themselves.

Prestige Worldwide Full Presentation – 2.40:1 - (04m:51s): As the title suggests, this is the full extended take of the Prestige Worldwide pitch scene, which quickly had me appreciating the much shorter edit.

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Boats ‘n Hoes – Music Video – 4:3 - (01m:52s): This is the full Boats ‘n Hoes video (minus the boat crashing), which I think is actually a pretty good song!

Dale Vs. Brennan – Sibling Rivalry – 2.40:1 - (06m:52s): Lots of alternate takes from the various scenes where Dale and Brennan antagonise each other. There are some good lines in here, but most of it is fluff.

The Making of Step Brothers – 1.78:1 – (22m:02s): Unusually for a promotional feature, the vast majority of the scenes shown being filmed never made it into the final film. It’s certainly strange to see the cast talk about great or fun gags they’ve just shot – and they’ve all been dropped! At 22 minutes long this featurette provides a fairly comprehensive view of the film’s shoot and how Mckay and cast worked.

The Music of Step Brothers – 1.78:1 - (18m:16s):Behind the scenes featurette taking a look at composer Jon Brion’s excellent work on the Step Brothers score, which features lots of discussion with Mckay and Brion and some candid footage of their work in the studio. We also get to see Brion playing a number of sessions with various artists he brought in to record some of the music with. His sessions with mandolinist Chris Thile are really amazing. This is a good feature for anyone interested in how film scores get put together.

Overall

If you’re a fan of Talladega Nights and loved how John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell interacted in that then you’ll find much to enjoy in Step Brothers, but I couldn’t help but feel rather unsatisfied by the extremely derivative and unadventurous plot. The Blu-ray provides a good English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, but the transfer is a little hit and miss; it has a nice detailed appearance that’s free of DNR (as I’ve come to expect from Sony lately), but the black levels can be very inconsistent, affecting the shadows. Either way it’s a marked step up from the DVD. For extra material Sony have provided a great commentary track and a plethora of outtakes that can be very funny.

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Film
6 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

Last updated: 18/04/2018 21:00:17

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