Like an indie version of 1994's "Dumb & Dumber," "The Brothers Solomon" is a surprisingly affectionate mixture of off-the-wall slapstick and a more restrained line of humor. Every time director Bob Odenkirk (2006's "Let's Go to Prison
") and screenwriter Will Forte appear to be playing their cards a little too broadly, they either pull back at just the right moment or go one step further, turning the unpalatable into quirky charm. Indeed, the film as a whole encounters some bumps in the road on its way to an ending that puts into question the honorability of certain characters, but it is also better than most will be expecting.
Having been raised in the Arctic for the better part of their childhoods, grown brothers John (Will Arnett) and Dean Solomon (Will Forte) are socially inept creatures with little hope in finding mates. When their widowed father (Lee Majors) slips into a coma, a doctor suggests that a big upcoming milestone or an event worth looking forward to are sometimes all it takes to help patients. Knowing that he would be thrilled with a grandson, John and Dean vow to find a woman willing to have their baby. When attempts at dating are disastrous, they turn to the straight-faced Janine (Kristen Wiig), a party performer in need of some cash and willing to be artificially inseminated for a price. As her trimesters tick down, John and Dean set out to learn what it means to care for a child while Janine experiences second thoughts about giving up the child.
As far as this summer's mainstream comedies go, "The Brothers Solomon" is weaker than "Superbad
," on par with "Knocked Up
," and an enormous step up from both "Hot Rod
" and "Balls of Fury
." For starters, there are actual laughs to be had, from a surrealistic opening where John and Dean, in close-up, appear on the screen to eye down and react to each cast and crew credit that pops up, to a climactic sequence involving the longest plane message banner in the history of message banners. In less assured hands, the two lead charactersnot the brightest bulbs on the treewould be unbearably irritating and inaccessible. In the right hands and with precisely the right touch, John and Dean are endearing doofuses whose stupidity is made up for with their sincerity and love for each other. When they practice changing diapers on a doll, and John hides a series of bizarre items for Dean to find in replacement of actual waste, what is funny is their absurdist take on such a task. The same goes for when they baby-proof their apartment and go overboard; the crib's bars are made to repel glass being thrown at them. When on the screen (which is most of the time), John and Dean's close sibling relationship, exaggerated for comic effect but hitting honest notes along the way, is the glue that holds together the slim plot.
Will Arnett (2007's "Blades of Glory
") and Will Forte (2006's "Beerfest
") have more than a first name in common; they also have enough chemistry to be more than just platonic blood brothers. Through no fault of his own, Arnett is unable to capture the level of innocuous and unassuming naiveté that Forte does. The key is in their looks; Forte's face is warm and innately likable, whereas Arnett sometimes looks smarmy or psychopathic. As Janine, Kristen Wiig (2006's "Unaccompanied Minors
") is astute at performing on a low key and without the body and speech affectations of a woman whose primary employment is as a cast member on "Saturday Night Live." Wiig proves to be a master of subtlety who is still able to squeeze out a few funny moments, and it is her no-nonsense but accepting character who grounds the rest of the film in reality. In a fine supporting turn, Chi McBride (2005's "Roll Bounce
") is a scene-stealer as Janine's boyfriend, James, his touchy and vulnerable personality at odds with his use of harsh language and the narrow-minded assumptions of how a big, black man is supposed to act. And finally, Malin Akerman (2007's "The Invasion
") expertly straddles the line between playing aloof and desirable as next-door neighbor Tara, the object of John's ill-placed affections.
Does "The Brothers Solomon"and namely, Forte's screenplayhold enough material to fill up a feature-length movie? The answer to this is debatable, and one of the last story turns is frustrating because it doesn't give John and Dean the credit they have by this time earned. Nevertheless, the dialogue has bite, the actors work well together, and the tonal shifts from wacky to sweet are convincing and even appreciable. "The Brothers Solomon" has a lot of out-there ideas up its sleeve, and yet it doesn't try too hard or force in raunchy material for the sake of raunchy material. It's a nice, little movie that plays by the sound of its own drummer. Although theatrical success will be a tough sell, a suspected cult following is imminent.