With his brand gracing the opening credits of no less than nine major feature films in less than two years, it's safe to assume that even Judd Apatow's backlash has a backlash. It's hard to fault a producer for striking while the iron's hot, but when you're working within constructs of such willful myopia and self-reference as these, it comes as no surprise that the Apatow brand's initially creative returns (Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) are diminishing at a cataclysmic pitch (see: Drillbit Taylor, Talladega Nights, You Don't Mess With the Zohan). Which brings us to Step Brothers, a film that manages to extend virtually all of the touchstones of the Apatow universe to their logical, and heroically unfunny, extremes.
I'm supposing that we're all well aware of what constitutes the most reductive hallmarks of the Apatow universe: First, there are the stunted man-child antiheroes. Next, you've got your one-dimensional female foils, who are either sex-crazed comic relief or pillars of pious, superhuman clemency. And lastly, you've got your off-the-cuff, irreverent comedic tone—the obvious product of loose, informal improvisation. On paper, Step Brothers fits every bullet-point you could dream of for a perfect Apatow smash: Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly's impression of Will Ferrell star as two men in their 40s who still live with their recently married parents (Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins), and who now have to share a home as they each learn what it means to be an adult. Sounds watchable at least, right?
Thing is, Ferrell and Reilly's latest manifestation of the man-child archetype has all the depth and humor of a spoiled nine-year-old pouting in the cereal aisle of a grocery store. This would be forgivable, of course, were it not for the fact that everybody seems to have completely run out of funny shit to say. (Farrell's comedy has especially devolved—now it largely consists of shouting expletives and/or non-sequiturs about his balls.) If this is the best they came up with, I cringe at the thought of what they saved for the DVD. With four more movies due in the next 12 months, Apatow & Co. seem to have no intention of slowing down—though I suspect that if they keep dropping garbage like Step Brothers, they're quickly not gonna have much say in the matter.