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John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell in Step Brothers.GEMMA LA MANA/Columbia Tristar

If you wanted to trace back the current state of the Hollywood blockbuster, the summer of 2008 is a good place to start.

A decade ago, the movie season opened with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, a squeaky clean and frequently funny spin on the superhero genre that kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe (20 films, earning $17.52-billion, and counting). Two months later, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight arrived, breaking box-office records and carrying a deeply serious tone that would inspire, or infect, countless imitators.

The legacies of those two superhero films is massive – so much so that you can barely read a film story this year without tripping over 10th-anniversary dissections of either (guilty as charged). But nestled in between those twin pillars of modern Hollywood is a movie that, while not as influential, is infinitely more entertaining and deserving of decade-later appreciation: Step Brothers.

The comedy, writer-director Adam McKay’s third collaboration with star Will Ferrell, arrived in theatres 10 years ago this weekend, on July 25, 2008. And it remains so consistently hilarious, so deftly executed and so confident in its absurd sensibilities that it is one of the most re-watchable comedies ever produced.

The premise isn’t promising. Following the exploits of two thirtysomething man-children, Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly), after they’re forced under the same roof following the marriage of the former’s mother (Mary Steenburgen) to the latter’s father (Richard Jenkins), the film could be mistaken for a simple bros-will-be-bros exercise. But the set-up – which McKay handles quite beautifully before the film’s opening title even appears on-screen – is merely an excuse for the director, Ferrell and Reilly to engage in all manner of filthy and unsettling comedy.

The trio – Ferrell co-wrote the screenplay with McKay, while Reilly is given a story credit – take sharp swipes at American culture’s tendency to indulge prolonged adolescence, but they are just as interested in producing gut-busting set pieces. There is Dale and Brennan’s fight to near-death on a suburban lawn; two sleepwalking scenes that take physical comedy to new heights; a job-interview montage capped with the only genuinely funny flatulence gag in the history of cinema; and a climax involving something called “the Catalina Wine Mixer” that will forever colour your opinion of Billy Joel.

The sheer strangeness of Step Brothers is difficult to capture on the page, so closely does the action and dialogue hinge on Ferrell and Reilly’s delirious chemistry, and their alternately deadpan and outraged performances. The pair are wild and reckless in their desires to earn a laugh, but also sincere and committed to their idiotic characters – a complex balancing act that extends to the entire supporting cast, especially Adam Scott as Brennan’s smarmy biological brother Derek, and Kathryn Hahn as Derek’s deeply depressed wife.

Everyone gets the chance to be outrageous, but no one comes close to becoming exhausting. Which seems to be the key to the film’s enduring appeal. Whenever I’m in a foul mood – which is often lately, because lives are stressful, alright? – there is no other movie that makes me smile faster or harder than McKay’s gonzo-weirdo classic.

While it would be convenient – certainly for my purposes – to say Step Brothers changed the course of modern American comedy forever, it really did no such thing.

The film was more the last hurrah of the improv-heavy style McKay and Ferrell helped usher in with 2004′s Anchorman and continued to develop with 2006′s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. It’s a sensibility that prioritized surrealism, pivoted on non-sequiturs, and frequently found punch lines in deep reservoirs of anger, frustration and fury. Ferrell in particular excelled when he was simply screaming his lines in faux-indignation, or with tears streaming down his face.

Cable television and web series cottoned to these traits somewhat, but big-screen comedies post-Step Brothers mostly misread its message. Witness the utterly conventional, bro-heavy antics of The Hangover, Hot Tub Time Machine, and Horrible Bosses series, or even Ferrell’s McKay-less efforts like The House, Daddy’s Home, and Get Hard.

Judd Apatow, a frequent McKay collaborator, produced the best exceptions to this rule. Yet while his work, too, relies heavily on improv and the familiar company of eager performers, Apatow’s narratives are more firmly grounded in reality, and overly comfortable with sentimentality. McKay, when let as loose as he was on Step Brothers, resides on a plane of existence that is unfamiliar, intriguing and a little dangerous.

But that was a decade ago. After directing two more Ferrell vehicles (2010′s The Other Guys and 2013′s not-quite-necessary Anchorman sequel), McKay has successfully shifted to slightly more prestigious productions, including 2015′s Oscar-nominated financial drama The Big Short, and this fall’s Dick Cheney biopic, Backseat.

Ferrell and Reilly, though, seem eager to recapture the magic. This winter, the pair are headlining Holmes and Watson, their first true collaboration since Step Brothers (Reilly had a cameo in Anchorman 2). Yet McKay is only producing that effort, leaving the directing and writing to Etan Cohen, best known for, er, Get Hard.

Well, we’ll always have the Catalina Wine Mixer.