When their divorced parents fall in love and get remarried, Brennan Huff (Will Ferrel) and Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) suddenly find themselves stepbrothers and roommates... at the age of 40. If you enjoy R-rated absurdist comedies like Talladega Nights or Walk Hard or The Other Guys, you'll probably enjoy this one too. However, while Step Brothers might be one of my favorite movies, I can't say this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray offers a worthy upgrade for most people. Yes, the HDR10 video is improved, and the Dolby Atmos mix is a little more articulate than the old 5.1 track, but the source material is rather bland. That said, we'll call it Worth a Look for anyone with a 4K projector or very large UHD TV.
Did we just become best friends?
Blended-family comedies have been around for decades, but I can't think of another one quite like Step Brothers. With a story by Will Ferrel & Adam McKay & John C. Reilly, and a screenplay by Will Ferrel & Adam McKay, Step Brothers boasts a simple premise about a new family created when two divorcees remarry. Yet, in the place of squabbling stepchildren, we have 40-year-old men who never grew up. In an era where more adult children are living at home than ever before, the film takes an absurdist spin on well-explored comedy genre and a potential real-world phenomenon.
Made as a followup to the successful Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers is a farcical genre parody where the filmmakers skillfully blend elements of R-rated raunch with fast-paced one-liners and the inherent silliness of adults living their lives as children. At the center of this comedy mash-up, we have Will Ferrel and John C. Reilly, who share a wonderful sense of chemistry and timing. Watching them together, you're just waiting for them to top each other, and they often do. But, I think their duo comedy stylings have proven so popular over the last 12 years because, despite their bravado and craziness, their performances and interactions are actually grounded in earnest emotions.
We've all seen siblings arguing over the smallest things (I want some fancy sauce!), but Ferrel and Reilly are so committed, with their mannerisms and attitudes, you can't help but see a bit of truth even in the silliest moments. In a sense, it's both impossible, yet feels true. Even more important, the filmmakers take the time to honestly grow Brennan and Dale's relationship, taking a structural page from the best family comedies. We understand why they hate each other. Are excited when they become best friends. And empathize with them as they separate and are finally forced to grow.
The rest of the cast is wonderful too. Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen bring earnest, dramatic chops to two roles that allow them to pepper the silliness with the grounded parental frustrations. They are fabulous performers and I'm not sure if there's much in this universe funnier than seeing both cursing up a storm. Adam Scott, Kathryn Hann, and Rob Riggle are here too with some unforgettable one-liners. I'm always impressed by how straightly they play their cartoonish characters; these parts could have easily been wink-at-the-camera-look-how-funny-I-am performances, but even they get moments of humanity to keep everything in step with the rest of the movie.
While I can't imagine that this blend of over-the-top silliness, bro-raunch, and earnest character arcs works for everyone, I love every minute of Step Brothers (I'd also argue that it's one of the few comedies where the Unrated extended cut adds more jokes without sacrificing pacing). I've spent many afternoons watching it with friends and family, which of course adds to its personal importance, but I look forward to enjoying it for years to come.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Step Brothers wants to make bank, bro, on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a three-disc + digital combo pack. The first disc, a 4K Blu-ray, includes no special features outside the Unrated and Theatrical versions. Discs two and three appear to be the same Blu-rays from the two-disc Blu-ray released a decade ago. The included Digital Copy redeems via MoviesAnywhere in 4K for playback across its partner streaming services (at this time, it looks like iTunes may have the only 4K streaming option, but let us know if you're able to access it in 4K elsewhere).
Step Brothers gets sweaty from watching Cops on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a clean, sharp, and slightly more colorful HDR10 2160p video transfer that improves upon the Blu-ray, but not significantly enough to warrant an upgrade for most people.
Debuting early in Blu-ray era, Step Brothers has always looked, well, just fine on home video. The Blu-ray is clean and sharp and the colors are accurate, but the overall experience is flat and visually bland. To be clear, this is 100% okay, as it serves this movie well and recreates the theatrical experience. The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray follows a similar path while boosting the film's sense of dimension and overall clarity. You can see more pores on actors' faces, more details in the sets. Primary colors are boosted as well thanks to the HDR10 wide color gamut capabilities, delivering more realistic skin tones as well as more punch in sequences like the f*&cking Catalina Wine Mixer. In terms of added highlight or shadow details, I didn't notice much improvement or pop. The movie looks the way it always has, just a little clearer.
While I philosophically detest the idea that some movies are less worthy of 4K releases than others, the truth is Step Brothers is a fairly bland movie, visually speaking, and thus doesn't leap off the screen with the wow-factor of the format's best discs. In short, Step Brothers looks nice on 4K and might be worth the upgrade for fans using 4K-HDR projectors or the largest UltraHD TVs, where overall resolution is more apparent. But, for most people, the Blu-ray is probably good enough.
Step Brothers is careful to never touch Dale's drum set with a middling Dolby Atmos track that supports the material while sounding wider and taller than the original Blu-ray's 5.1 TrueHD mix.
Outside its soundtrack elements (#BoatsNHoes), Step Brothers rarely features dynamic aural elements. The new-for-UHD Dolby Atmos mix tinkers with things a bit, but the results are far from demonstration-worthy. Dialog remains the priority, for good reason, and it's all clear, even during more chaotic moments. Musical elements sound a bit taller and wider, with the filmmakers pulling various elements into the overhead and side-surround speakers. While the film has never featured much in the way of effects panning or LFE presence, the new Atmos mix presents the So Many Activities sequence in a slightly more articulate way, placing the titular stepbrothers more clearly in off-camera space while Robert warns them not to use power tools.
For the most part, the Step Brothers Dolby Atmos mix is similar to what came before, but a few of the extra side-surround placement choices are a touch distracting. Overall, it's okay. Nothing great; nothing horrible. As we'd expect, very average compared to most Dolby Atmos mixes.
The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray includes both the Unrated and Theatrical versions of the film, but no new bonus materials and nothing ON the 4K Blu-ray itself (even the commentary). Here's everything included on the two Blu-ray discs, as reviewed in HDD's 2008 coverage:
An absurdist blended-family comedy about two 40-something men who act more like middle schoolers won't be for everyone. But for me and my friends, Step Brothers is one of our all-time favorite comedies. I love the density of the jokes, the witty-yet-dumb one-liners, and the way it grounds over-the-top humor in human behaviors. I've probably seen this movie 50 times and can't wait to watch it again soon.
This 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray smokes pot with Johnny Hopkins with a lovely HDR10 transfer that improves fine details and primary colors versus the original Blu-ray. It also features a middling Dolby Atmos mix that widens the musical soundstage a tad while improving a couple off-camera sounds. At the end of the day, Step Brothers super-fans with 4K projectors or extra-large 4K TVs may find this a step up from the Blu-ray, but for most folks, the previous release serves the material well enough. Worth A Look.