by Ed Symkus

With Stuck on You, the Farrelly brothers continue their unblemished streak of comedies with common elements: riotous sight gags, a hefty supply of toilet humor, and characters who display hearts of gold even as they confront mental or physical challenges.

Bob and Walt Tenor, for example, face one hell of a challenge: They're joined, just above the hip, by a band of flesh. Most of the liver they share is on Bob's side, so Walt appears to be aging slightly faster. This idea works well in the film since Greg Kinnear (Walt) is slightly older than Matt Damon (Bob) in real life.

But enough of science class. Viewers are going to get a big dose of their conjoinedness right from the get-go -- and they'll answer in kind with laughs. The brothers are first seen as short-order cooks in their Martha's Vineyard restaurant, working wonders with their four hands, slicing, dicing, flipping, getting meals made as fast as they can. We see them work in unison, and we see them make wrong moves and mess up a thing or two. It's funny, and through the words and actions created by the Farrellys, it's never cruel. The Tenor brothers have long ago accepted their lot in life, and have chosen to make it work for them.

The same goes with their customers, who love the guys as much as the guys love each other, and don't even notice anymore that the two are one. Without a blink, they'll defend them against any newcomer in town who might make a nasty crack about their condition.

But the island community can hold the Tenors there for only so long. Although Bob is happy with the quiet life, Walt has ambitions. After a successful performance in a local stage production of Tru, in which Walt dresses in Truman Capote white, and Bob hides as best he can behind him dressed in hard-to-see black, Walt announces he wants to head for Hollywood to try his luck.

The Farrellys forego the road-movie route this could have taken and simply plop the brothers down on the West Coast at the Rising Star Motel, where they soon meet ditzy April (Eva Mendes, recently quite serious in Out of Time), a typical Farrelly nice person who doesn't even blink when she sees the guys' condition.

From there, the film takes off in wild and crazy directions. Walt can't believe how easy it is to land his first acting job, even with Bob tagging along (as he must). But the job, in typical Farrelly bad taste, turns out to be a bit cruder than what he wanted. Enter Cher, playing a warped, bitchy, conniving version of herself, as a disillusioned actress who's stuck with a new TV show she doesn't want. When she and the brothers meet, she immediately demands that they become her leading men, in order to make the show fail and get her out of her contract.

Of course, everything that can go wrong, does. Seymour Cassel appears as crusty old Monty, a very old-fashioned agent with very bad hair (a la Bill Murray and Woody Harrelson in the Farrellys' Kingpin) who's trying to get Walt some work. Meryl Streep shows up in a couple of cameos, playing herself and, at one point, hamming it up beyond anything she's done since her great comic turn in Defending Your Life.

The film never runs low on visual gags about the brothers being connected, mostly around sporting events -- hockey, boxing, and baseball scenes stand out. And when one of them manages to get a woman in bed, the other stays quietly on the other side of a hanging sheet, perhaps an homage to Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night. (Or maybe not.)

The big laughs in the first half do give way to smaller ones in the second, mainly because the story gets bogged down somewhat in the brothers' problems with their love lives and their careers. But the laughs never come to a halt. Cassel gets the funniest lines, and Cher gets the most self-deprecating ones. All ends well, culminating in a big splashy musical number based on Bonnie and Clyde, with Kinnear showing off his pipes in a brassy rendition of the Billy Stewart version of Summertime.

One of the funniest moments of the film acts as a harbinger of the Farrellys' future. A hotel desk clerk is asleep on the job, with eyeballs painted on his closed lids. That's an old Stooges gag. The title of the Farrelly's next film? The Three Stooges.

Publication date: 12/11/03

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