All in the worst possible taste

Film - Mark Kermode on the latest loud, crude but very funny Farrelly brothers movie

A minor media fuss has broken out about Stuck on You, the new movie from the Farrelly brothers - gross-out comedy kings and creators of entertaining no-brainers such as Dumb and Dumber. According to the British broadsheets, Stuck on You is "a Hollywood film that uses conjoined twins as the subject matter for a slapstick caper" which disability awareness campaigners have slammed as "crass and tasteless". Representatives of a disability charity and a children's hospital have been rolled out to disapprove of the movie (which they appear not to have seen), and stories have been rehashed of scuffles over previous Farrelly films such as Me, Myself and Irene, which "had mental health advocates up in arms" for seeing the funny side of schizophrenia.

In the light of all such pre-publicity, one might well steer clear of Stuck on You, in which conjoined twins (Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear) face a friendship-threatening crisis when one brother seeks the acting spotlight, leaving his sibling loitering uncomfortably in the shadows. Faint-hearts may be further discouraged to learn that previous Farrelly highlights include Randy Quaid drinking a bucket of bull's spunk in Kingpin and Cameron Diaz gelling her hair with semen in There's Something About Mary. Yet to dismiss Stuck on You would mean missing out on a laugh-packed romp that both gladdens the heart and tickles the funny-bone. Because behind the slap-stick facade of opportunistic political incorrectness, the Farrellys hide an almost Capra-esque sense of goodwill to all men, particularly on the often taboo subject of physical and mental otherness.

First, the frivolities. While hunky Matt Damon has too often succumbed to forgettable cheesecake frippery, his pairing with the ironic icon Greg Kinnear (seen most recently as the masturbating home-porn addict in Paul Schrader's excellently dark Auto Focus) is inspired, provoking a delightfully entertaining tension between the film's inseparable stars. There is both laughter and pathos in scenes of the retiring Matt attempting to sleep while Greg ruts like a steer with a new-found lover; or of the garrulous Greg ineffectually making himself scarce while Matt pours out his soul to a long-standing penfriend.

Elsewhere, niftily choreographed physical gags play on the conjoined brothers' heightened abilities to flip burgers (they run a thriving fast-food joint), play sports (forming an impassable human wall as ice hockey goalies), and kick ass (a riotous punch-up has our four-footed/fisted heroes besting a roomful of drunken bores). Crucially, in none of these episodes are the twins mocked for their conjoinment, which is seen less as a disability than an asset. Indeed, what spite there is in the film is reserved largely for the physically "perfect" likes of Cher (who exhibits great chutzpah playing herself as a classic Hollywood bitch) and for the knuckle-headed admen who reject the brothers from their chewing-gum campaign because "Double Bubble is about doubling the taste - not causing birth defects".

Such pointed humour will come as no surprise to those familiar with the Farrellys' habit of casting otherly abled actors as the source (rather than the butt) of their robust humour. While most mainstream Hollywood comedies are populated by the kind of plastic clones who would consider ginger hair to be a major handicap, the Farrellys have increasingly assigned key supporting roles to performers such as Rene Kirby, an agile spina bifida sufferer who strode proudly on all-fours through Shallow Hal (a rip-roaring comedy about obesity) with an admirable "fuck you" attitude to those who would underestimate him. Similarly, in Stuck on You, the challenged screen newcomer Ray "Rocket" Valliere relishes the opportunity to entertain as a waiter at the Quickee Burger - knowingly mocking his perceived inability to deal with "complex" drinks orders ("So . . . that's three 7-Ups!"), and then helping the bosses to rid the restaurant of some real freaks in the form of an abusive jock and his Barbie-doll bride.

Crucially, by the time Rocket delivers a closing-credits valediction about his positive experiences on the set of Stuck on You, one has no inclination to feel in the least bit sorry for him - he's a funny guy with a witheringly dry sense of humour, and it's a credit to the film-makers that they spotted and exploited his talents. And while their love of bad taste occasionally leads to errors of judgement, I'd take the raw bawdiness of the Farrellys' exuberant portrayals of "disability" over the mawkish awkwardness of Rain Man and I Am Sam any day. They may not win Oscars, but the brothers know a good joke when they hear it - which is more than can be said for many of their more "sensitive" Hollywood compatriots.

Add to this a charming cameo from la Streep herself (singing and dancing in fine faux-amateur style) and Stuck on You emerges as far less "crass and tasteless" than critics would have you believe. None of which is to suggest that the film is in the least "worthy" or "right on". It isn't - it's loud, crude, sentimental - and very funny. Ignore the critics and stick with it.

Stuck on You (certificate 12a) is on general release