2 stars (out of 4)
Finally we've found a comedy that deserves comparison with the Farrelly brothers' "There's Something About Mary" - a celebration of the outrageous depths to which entertaining, anti-social scoundrels will sink. That movie is "Bad Santa."
The Farrelly brothers, meanwhile, have a new movie as well: "Stuck on You." It's not naughty. It's nice. Naughty is funnier.
This conjoined-twin comedy continues the strange trajectory of Peter and Bobby Farrelly's writing-directing career. While their premises have grown increasingly outlandish, the movies themselves keep getting tamer, as if the filmmakers are so wary of fulfilling the offensive potential that they soft-pedal the laughs.
So "Shallow Hal" (2001), about a guy brainwashed into thinking an obese woman has model-like looks, becomes a sweet ode to inner beauty. And "Stuck on You," pairing Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon as bonded-from-birth twins with diverging desires, is a sentimental look at oddballs and brotherly bonds.
The overlong "Stuck on You" extends the Farrellys' championing of physically or mentally challenged people. The brothers, Bob (Damon) and Walt (Kinnear) Tenor, lead a happy existence on Martha's Vineyard, where they run a Quickee Burger joint and have perfected a two-man burger assembly line.
The fact that they're joined at the waist draws no comment among the regulars; this is a place that embraces so-called "freaks," such as the verbose, mentally challenged busboy Rocket (played by the Farrellys' friend Ray "Rocket" Valliere).
Yet Walt is itching to expand his acting career to more than his annual one-man community theater shows, such as the movie's comic-highlight performance of Jay Presson Allen's "Tru." As Walt imitates the dishy Truman Capote, Bob slumps behind him trying to avoid a panic attack.
Soon the pair is off to Hollywood, and the movie's ripe premise begins to get soggy. We haven't seen many (or any) comedies about conjoined twins. We've seen too many comedies about Hollywood struggles - self-obsessed screenwriters can't seem to avoid the topic.
So we get jokes about Walt's over-the-hill agent (Seymour Cassel), sucking-up-to-celebrity encounters (with an uncredited Meryl Streep being a good sport) and adventures on the Fox lot. There, Walt meets Cher, playing herself as a prima donna who hires him as her TV crime-fighting series sidekick so the show will fail and she can get out of her contract.
The efforts to keep Bob out of the shots - through framing or a body-covering blue suit - are amusing, but the Farrellys focus too much on Cher sending herself up. Celebrity self-parody is everywhere these days. Sharply written character-driven comedy is far rarer.
And the Farrellys put characters, rather than gags, at the center of this material. The ante-upping comedic set pieces of "There's Something About Mary" and "Kingpin" are nowhere to be seen, and the sight gags, such as the pair playing various sports or Walt pursuing his lust life, tend to be tossed off.
The assumption is that you'll become so involved with Walt and Bob, you won't miss the gut-busters. Kinnear, 40, and Damon, 33, certainly are amiable presences - Walt looks older because Bob has 90 percent of their shared liver - but that's part of the problem: The conflicts don't grow dangerous.
The Farrellys even play Bob's in-person courtship of his longtime Internet correspondent, May (Wen Yann Shih), for the sweetness. Bob hasn't told her about his physical irregularity, but she's so tentative and good-natured - and the actress playing her is so green - that the stakes never rise.
You can't be too hard on filmmakers who err on the side of the angels when so much comedy is crass or mean-spirited. If the Farrellys like casting amateurs in bit parts to create a genial vibe, so be it, as long as the laughs keep coming.
But the results here too often are as flat and amateurish as the final "Bonnie and Clyde: The Musical" production number. The Farrellys convince you their hearts are in the right place, but their instinct for the funny bone has become unglued.
"Stuck on You"
Written and directed by Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly; photographed by Dan Mindel; edited by Christopher Greenbury, David Terman; production designed by Sidney J. Bartholomew Jr.; produced by Bradley Thomas, Charles B. Wessler, Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly. A 20th Century Fox release; opens Friday, Dec. 12. Running time: 2:00. MPAA rating: PG-13 (crude and sexual humor, some language).
Bob - Matt Damon
Walt - Greg Kinnear
April - Eva Mendes
May - Wen Yann Shih
Mimmy - Pat Crawford Brown
Rocket - Ray "Rocket" Valliere