Well, they're back. But they don't have the kind of cojones you remember. That sweet streak has grown, like a cancer, and gradually killed off any edge their humor may once have had. The early symptoms were there in Shallow Hal, a film that briefly made fun of the overweight and the ugly before turning the tables and making you feel bad for laughing. Now, with Stuck on You, they've produced a paean to brotherhood that's almost all sentiment -- a PG-13 film whose edgiest jokes have been given away in the trailer.
Here's a perfect example: Stuck on You features a significant retarded character, played by a similarly challenged actor named Ray "Rocket" Valliere. Not only are there no jokes made at this character's expense (by contrast, think of the way the retarded brother in Mary was portrayed, or the albino in Me, Myself & Irene), but the end credits feature a clip of Valliere tearfully thanking the Farrellys and his co-stars for the opportunity. It's a good thing for cinematic diversity that the Farrellys are willing to hire nontraditional actors, but this footage of what should be a private moment feels like self-congratulation, as if they want to prove to us that they've grown past mocking the less fortunate.
Still, reducing the success of the Farrellys to a bunch of retard jokes isn't exactly fair. Part of what made both Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary work was the way they would take a traditional premise, like the buddy movie or the romantic comedy, and introduce weird narrative detours that one wouldn't normally expect. Here, the narrative is as conventional as can be. It's the old Hollywood fantasy: Lovable small-town guy moves to L.A. to make it big, gets set up to fail, accidentally becomes a huge star, then learns that fame isn't all it's cracked up to be, meets the girl, and realizes What's Really Important.
The sole twist in Stuck on You is that our protagonist is two people sharing one body, conjoined twins Bo (Matt Damon) and Walt (Greg Kinnear). The age difference is explained by the notion that Bo got most of the twins' shared liver, and therefore Walt ages faster, but that's about as believable as the many scenes depicting Walt lighting up cigarettes in Los Angeles bars. An early notion of having Woody Allen play Walt would have pushed the premise into true absurdity, but it isn't clear that the Farrellys have it in them anymore. Likewise, they could have had Ben Affleck joined to Damon at the hip, but that might have played too much like a documentary.
Stuck on You is agreeably affable, but not much more. It's laugh-out-loud funny maybe once, possibly more than that if you haven't seen the trailer yet. The Farrellys can't seem to bring themselves to be nasty to anyone anymore -- even Cher, playing herself as the film's ostensible villain, is revealed to have considerably more to her than a heart of stone. Eva Mendes's caricature of a brainless up-and-coming starlet is initially hilarious -- and the actress's best role this year -- but of course she turns out to be kind-hearted through and through. The lack of meanness may have been what persuaded so many other celebs to cameo -- in addition to Cher, we get Jesse Ventura, Frankie Muniz, Luke Wilson, Griffin Dunne, Jay Leno, and Meryl Streep as themselves -- but it all seems rather pointless (Dunne is the only one willing to gleefully torpedo his own image). Additionally, it must be pointed out that, judging by the evidence of this footage, "Meryl Streep" is the one role Meryl Streep cannot convincingly pull off.
You want plot details? Sure, why not? The twins begin the film as fry cooks at a burger joint in Martha's Vineyard, rolling out the burgers and fries in double time. Walt, however, feels driven to be an actor: His one-man show ("one-man" being somewhat relative, when he's dragging around a conjoined brother with stage fright) about Truman Capote, entitled Tru, is a local hit, and he wants to try to go Hollywood before he's too old. Bo, who likes the simple life, agrees only because he doesn't want to hold his brother back, though it turns out that he's also been corresponding online with an Angeleno girl named May (relative newcomer Wen Yann Shih), whom he loves, but hasn't told about his condition.
Walt gets his big Hollywood break when Cher, contractually forced to do a silly legal TV drama titled "Honey and the Beaze," spots the brothers, and using a clause that allows her to pick any co-star she wants, chooses Walt, on the assumption that his presence will cause the show to fail. Not surprisingly, she's wrong about that, and the show becomes a huge hit. If you've seen The Producers, you've seen this sort of thing done way better.
I mean, really: What can you say about a comedy that has to resort to the ancient gag of having a crying person borrow a silk handkerchief, only to blow his nose into it loudly? Or ends in a musical number that's neither funny nor relevant? You can say that the film's creators have lost it, and you would probably be correct.