Won’t You Join Us?

Twin Falls Idaho is a strange and isolated film, fittingly hatched from the strange and isolated imaginations of identical brothers Mark and Michael Polish. As if by the weird telepathy that twins often share, the film channels values and assumptions about American neediness, loneliness, and desire without ever stating them explicitly. It seems to exist completely out of time, in the eternal gloom of run-down hotels and streets scoured of life, and out of place, in an amber-and-blue world of cities and farms that Edward Hopper would instantly recognize.

The Polish brothers (who wrote the script) play the Falls brothers, conjoined twins in the prime of their lives who seem to have given up. They live alone together, as it were, in a shabby residential hotel in a minor American city, and pass the days locked into the confluence of their shared body—three legs, an arm each—and shared experience. Blake (Mark Polish) is the stronger twin; Francis (Michael Polish) depends on his brother for most of his internal functioning. They appear to exist in suspended animation, their cloistered past and present obscurity leaving them disconnected from the world outside. Within the all-too-complete union of fraternal souls, solitude and a sense of the unfinished reign.

It is measure of Blake’s growing curiosity about what he’s going to do with the rest of his life—what the brothers did with the early part we do not know yet—that he orders up an emissary from the outside world, a hooker named Penny (Michele Hicks). Appalled at the sight of her client, Penny recoils, but soon curiosity overcomes her as well, and she and Blake begin to forge a tentative, largely silent connection, to the frustration of the weak, angry Francis.

Penny is destined for oddness—the first scene shows her in a taxi, accepting a $2 bill from the driver’s metal-claw hand. Hicks has a grungy, doelike beauty that makes her character seem as hard-shelled and fragile as Dresden china; her wary whisper echoes the brothers’ voices. As Penny and Blake grow closer, the already dependent Francis begins to feel downright vestigial. He sketches a “poster for your new band,” while Blake teaches Penny to hold chords down on the guitar—the drawing shows Penny soldered to Blake’s left shoulder. “Is my butt that big?” she snaps, while the artist smirks. (Like Jules and Jim, Twin Falls is anchored in the center by a song full of ironies and contradictions about the connected parties’ state; the twins take a childish pleasure in making music.)

The Polish brothers’ script has its obvious moments—there’s some conspicuous talk of “freaks” and “normal,” and a broad sequence taxes our sympathy with the Falls as human beings by showing them as pitiful woodland creatures when a slimy jerk proposes to exploit them in showbiz. But a subtle group of symbols and a fragrant air of sexual mystery provide this film’s most potent evocations. The brothers’ interdependence, more than their physiological freakishness, is what disturbs strangers. It has kept them childish; they eat cotton candy, birthday cake, and Halloween spoils, and they communicate in a series of boyish whispers that exclude and annoy others. This retarded development and Penny’s professional presence raise questions about the twins’ physical existence, which other characters answer through projection of their own fears and desires—”Quite a marriage,” notes Penny’s sympathetic doctor.

Like Mark and Michael Polish, Blake and Francis Falls share a handsome face, a mute watchfulness, and the peculiar psychic connection of twins. Their performance has none of the pathetic “dignity” of paternalistic noble-freak stories; they balance world-weariness with naivete. At a Halloween party, Blake and Francis observe the differences between the nature-made freaks that they are and the self-made freaks around them, but they watch in horror when a couple costumed as Siamese twins untie the laces from their adjoining sleeves and move off in different directions. Despite Francis’ resentment and Blake’s separation panics, nothing could be scarier to them than leaving the quiet, mysterious world they have created inside their one imperfect body. In the calm faces of these characters and the woman who tends them, the Polish brothers have crafted a moving, mysterious elegy on loneliness, need, and love.

The Dudley Do-Right segments of the old Jay Ward Bullwinkle Show were always the lamest part, a numbskull one-gag idea jarring against the sublime intellectual lunacy of moose and squirrel because no one in it was smart. Even in the ’60s, when the animated series aired fresh, the exploits of Dudley, Nell, and Snidely Whiplash were hoary and confusing to kids who couldn’t have cared less about the silent-film conventions that kept the actions screwed down to the triangle of hero-damsel-villain, and no one then or now is going to laugh at a parody of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald.

So naturally, Hollywood has seen fit to make a full-length, live-action version of the cartoon. In a casting coup so apt it may have actually been the impetus for this film, Brendan Fraser plays hapless hero Do-Right, a chisel-chinned Royal Canadian Mountie who strains all his sentences through a teeth-gritting victory grin and loves his white steed, Horse, with boyish if suspect devotion. Sarah Jessica Parker is all wrong for the delicate, feather-brained Nell; she looks warty and witchlike in the demure costumes. And Alfred Molina lays on the ham for an admirable reconstituting of his cartoon character. Alex Rocco, Eric Idle, and others romp gamely through the film, displaying more good intentions than grasp of character, and who can blame them?

Bringing the animated story, mild as it was, to 3-D life means taming Snidely’s evil from acts to schemes—after all, seeing a person tied to the railroad tracks is rather more horrible than watching a cartoon of same. To keep the action at kiddie level, director Hugh Wilson indulges in literally cartoonish violence, in which slapstick smacks leave no marks and scary implements of torture turn out to be cardboard. This technique calls for such uncertain emotional investment on the audience’s part that it doesn’t know what it should react to—many kids in the screening audience just began randomly crying, perhaps to drown out the dialogue. Wilson, who also wrote the screenplay, made a very odd decision to put the story in a contemporary setting, in which TVs, McDonald’s, and references to Wayne Gretzky make total hash of the silent-film cow town and old-fashioned costumes. Horse-fart jokes and words like “screwed” and “friggin’” are presumably there to unite the two periods.

Dudley Do-Right has a respectable plot (by salting the rivers with gold, Snidely turns Semi-Happy Valley into a gold-rush Potterville) and some moments of inspired lunacy worthy of Jay Ward—especially when Dudley seeks help from the not-very-native Indians, who pass off an elaborate tap-dancing-and-fireworks dinner theater show as their “Authentic Corn Ritual.” Funny bits zing through the background—a news anchor indignantly announces that studies show “Canadian bacon is actually ordinary ham”—but unfortunately not in the foreground, and—let’s face it—it’s always funny when a giant moose head drops onto a man’s shoulders and he can’t get the antlers through a doorway. There, you’ve just seen the best part. CP