Stuck on You<br></br>Bartleby<br></br>Kiss of Life <br></br>Kitchen Stories

Can conjoined twins be funny? Erm...
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Peter and Bobby Farrelly brought us two friends sharing one brain in Dumb & Dumber, and two personalities sharing one body in Me, Myself And Irene. Now, in Stuck on You (12A), they bring us two brothers sharing one liver. The brothers are Bob (Matt Damon) and Walt Tenor (Greg Kinnear), Siamese twins - conjoined twins, to be politically correct about it - who are literally joined at the hip. Yes, Kinnear is older than Damon, but the Farrellys have thought of that: Walt has only 10 per cent of their mutual liver, so he ages faster than his sibling.

What's refreshing about the film is that Bob and Walt have no hang-ups about their condition. Local heroes in their tightknit Massachussets fishing town, they're an unbeatable ice-hockey goal-keeping team, and they're a two-man conveyor belt at the fast-food restaurant they own. Even when the outgoing Walt sleeps with one of his conquests, the shy, athletic Bob doesn't mind looking the other way. Everything is fine until Walt decides he wants to make it as an actor. Bob suffers from paralysing stage fright, but as the twins have pledged never to hold each other back, they head to Hollywood, side by side.

The Farrellys seem to have grown out of gross-out. Although they made their names by obsessing over every solid, liquid and gas that finds its way out of the human body, they've since settled into being reliable purveyors of mildly enjoyable, soft-hearted, high-concept comedy. And while there's an amateurishness to their directing that makes you wish that someone else would edit and film their scripts, they know how to get comic mileage out of a premise. My favourite of Stuck On You's many funny moments is when one of the twins answers the phone, and the other hisses, "I'm not here!"

However, while we're definitely laughing with the Tenors, not at them, I'm less convinced than the Farrellys evidently are by the film's progressive, enlightened attitude towards the disabled. It might be laudable to present a positive story about conjoined twins, but by crowbarring in some blind singers, a crippled stand-up comic, and an educationally sub-normal waiter, the Farrellys lump all disabled people together into one happy, homogenous family. And then, over the end credits, there's a long, spontaneous speech by a mentally handicapped actor, thanking the directors for making the movie such a joyous experience. Would the Farrellys have used this unctuous footage if the actor's diction hadn't been slurred? And what does that say about the sincerity of their contention that the disabled should be treated no differently from everyone else?

Few actors are as magnificently strange as Crispin Glover is, so he's perfectly cast in the title role of Bartleby (PG), which is based on Herman Melville's 150-year-old short story. Jonathan Parker sets his film in a surreal version of the present day - everything is a notch more garish and nightmarish - but the bones of the story are Melville's. Bartleby is a clerk who responds to every one of his employer's instructions with the soft-spoken declaration, "I would prefer not to," and as the days pass he refuses more and more of his tasks until he's not a worker any more, he's the office squatter. Parker adds some colleagues who are almost as oddball as Bartleby is, but he can't make us forget that his source material is a short story - and a short, short story at that. His quirkily entertaining vision of nine-to-five insanity should have clocked off after about an hour.

The same could be said of Kiss of Life (12A). It stars Peter Mullan as a relief worker in Bosnia. Back home in London, his wife (Ingeborga Dapunaite) is killed in a traffic accident, leaving behind her son and daughter and their grandfather. From then on, there's no more plot, just lots of scenes of the characters - including the woman's ghost - watching old home movies and drifting into dreams and memories of each other. Emily Young's first feature film is well made, but it is, depending on how generous you're feeling, either a poetic evocation of love and separation, or a short film straining to bulk itself up to feature length.

Yet another idiosyncratic little film, Bent Hamer's Kitchen Stories (PG) is about two men trapped together in the same kitchen. One of them is the grouchy Norwegian farmer who owns the kitchen, and indeed the rest of the house. The other is a Swedish observer who sits in a lifeguard's high chair in the corner, and maps his movements. He works for the Home Research Institute, which is planning to develop the perfect ergonomic culinary workstation for bachelors. As the men's observer/observed detachment dissolves, Hamer cooks up a sweet, absurd comedy, in a very laconic, Norwegian sort of way.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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