Sometimes it's easy to imagine the Hollywood machine not as cog-wheeled factory but rather as a giant Mr. Potato Head. It sings and dances amusingly enough, but it only knows a few songs, and it can only rearrange itself in so many combinations. Thus Step Brothers, where Señor Potato's hat filled with old tricks will still get the audience to ooh and ah, but it's an act you've seen before, when the magicians were younger and more interesting.
Written by and starring Hollywood's favorite Heterosexual Life Partners Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly (note that Ferrell's name comes first, of course, as he wears the pants), Step Brothers asks that you open wide and swallow the following pill: Single Mother (Mary Steenburgen) meets Single Father (Richard Jenkins), both of whom have 40-year-old sons who still live at home. The boys don't get along at first, but they soon realize that they're the same soul trapped in separate but equally tubby and hairy vessels and become fast friends. But when Mommy and Daddy decide to retire and sail around the world, the party's over, and the kids are forced out of the nest to make their own way in the world. There are enough breakups and make-ups to shame the most melodramatic chick flick, and the only real fun happens when Ferrell's brother Derek (Adam Scott) emerges as the perfect yuppie asshole.
Even avoiding Semi-Talla-Anchor-Blades-of-Dewey comparisons, the jokes are old. Anyone remember Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood's hero being younger than his father? Or Better Off Dead's scary paper boy intimidating full-grown men? Or the infinitely funnier two hairy naked men wrestling in Borat? Ferrell and Reilly do. But underneath the recycling is a sadder story of several very talented comic giants, including Judd Apatow, wasting their credentials on tired gags.
Toward the flick's end you may find yourself asking, Is it possible that there's a theme here, a message embedded in the tea-bagging jokes about a culture so obsessed with traditional definitions of success that we rush into playing grownup at the expense of our youthful innocence and unchained humanity? The answer, of course, is no. It's just a movie about grown men forced to ingest sun-bleached dog turds, 40-year-old virgins three years after it's fashionable to be one, and attractive women mysteriously sweating goofy heroes with no sex appeal. But hey, at least you knew from the first five seconds of the trailer what you were getting yourself into, so if you're seeing it anyway, you'll probably enjoy it.