If we had to guess, we’d say more than a few of you probably aren’t looking forward to this weekend’s Jack and Jill, starring Adam Sandler as a Los Angeles ad exec… and as his obnoxious twin sister. But even if it most likely isn’t destined to win any Golden Tomato awards, Jack and Jill is still part of the long Hollywood tradition of actors playing their own twins, and decided to take this opportunity to revisit a few examples from the genre. From action to comedy, critical darling to cult classic, twins are everywhere at the cineplex. It’s it’s time time to to Total Total Recall Recall!
We all love to complain about Hollywood’s unquenchable thirst for remakes, reboots, and sequels, but every once in awhile, something truly original sneaks through and manages to make an impact. Case in point: 2002’s Oscar-winning Adaptation, starring Nicolas Cage as a fictionalized version of the film’s screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, as well as his fictional twin brother Donald. Confused? Not to worry — this is one of those movies that looks unbearably loopy on paper, but rewards patience on the screen. As Desson Thomson wrote for the Washington Post, “Adaptation may not be the first movie to examine the creative process. But it’s the most playfully brilliant.”
How do you top the most successful sci-fi-action-comedy time travel movie ever made? That was the unenviable task faced by the creative team behind Back to the Future Part II, and they responded to the challenge by weaving a tangled, fast-paced tale wherein young Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) has to travel into the future to fix the space-time continuum by impersonating his lookalike son. Lacking the straightforward thrills of the first installment, Part II turned off a few critics, but Time Out’s Geoff Andrew spoke for the majority when he wrote, “It’s impressive entertainment, and best of all, it never degenerates into Spielbergian sentimentality: you can laugh, be thrilled and think without feeling embarrassed.”
Okay, so at 25 percent on the Tomatometer, Big Business isn’t one of the bigger critical winners on our list — and yeah, Roger Ebert did describe it as “endless and dreary” before dismissing its cheerful reliance on sitcom-style “missed ’em by that much” humor by saying simply, “It is never funny, in this movie or any other movie.” But c’mon — with Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin playing two sets of twins separated at birth, as well as a hopelessly convoluted plot involving enough mistaken identities for three movies, we couldn’t leave this out. “Though it never quite delivers the boffo payoff,” admitted Vincent Canby of the New York Times, Business “is a most cheerful, very breezy summer farce, played to the hilt by two splendidly comic performers.”
What’s even creepier than a David Cronenberg movie about a disturbed gynecologist? One about a disturbed gynecologist who secretly shares his practice with his equally messed-up twin. Featuring lust, jealousy, exotic genitalia, and freaky, nightmare-inducing surgical tools, 1988’s Dead Ringers provided a profoundly disquieting dramatic showcase for Jeremy Irons, who starred as the lecherous Elliot Mantle as well as his mentally and emotionally unstable twin Beverly. “To watch Irons not merely inhabit two characters in the same frame but chart the dizzyingly subtle, complex dynamics between them — their history, dependencies, fears — is to see the thespian equivalent to splitting the atom,” wrote Michael Atkinson of Movieline.
Jean-Claude Van Damme settled the “nature vs. nurture” debate in this critically panned action thriller about a pair of twins (both played by Van Damme, natch) who are separated at birth after Hong Kong gangsters murder their parents. Chad and Alex grow up to be very different people (One’s a California snob! One smokes cigars!), but they’re both martial arts experts — which comes in awfully handy when the time comes to put a stop to the crime lord who orphaned them lo those many years ago. “Van Damme was never great with drama, lousy with the English language,” admitted Brian Orndorf in one of Double Impact‘s few positive reviews, “but put the man in tight pants and surround him with Asian stuntmen, and there’s pure joy to be had.”
The year after Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio was too big for any one role — so he picked up two in Randall Wallace’s Man in the Iron Mask, a well-cast (but not so well-reviewed) adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas story about dastardly intrigue in the court of King Louis XIV. Taking part in some writerly conjecture about one of history’s most intriguing mysteries, Dumas surmised that the infamous royal prisoner known as the Man in the Iron Mask was actually Louis’ fictional twin brother Philippe, and had the older-yet-still-dashing Three Musketeers rescue him from a life in the dungeon and help him ascend to his rightful throne. Wallace lined up an impressive roster of stars for his Man, including Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, and Gerard Depardieu — but in the end, it was his marquee idol who packed ’em into the seats, and for some critics, that was enough. “The film is abysmally photographed, and it’s full of lazy, anachronistic dialogue,” sighed Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman, “but DiCaprio, a fluid and instinctive actor, puts his best face on a swashbuckling potboiler.”
Between 1986 and 1994, Michael Keaton starred in at least one film every year, including the huge hits Beetlejuice, Batman, and Batman Returns — so after taking a year off in 1995, maybe he was trying to make up for lost time with Multiplicity, a comedy about a construction worker whose harried life prompts him to clone himself repeatedly. Starring Keaton in a frantically demanding quadruple role, it might not have resonated with most critics (or audiences, who drummed up an uninspired $21 million at the box office), but not for lack of effort on the part of its leading man. As Chris Hicks of the Deseret News wrote, “If ever there was a movie that showed off an actor’s versatility, this is it.”
She’s often used as a punchline now, but in 1998, Lindsay Lohan was an adorably precocious, fully formed talent — and she proved it with her starring turn in The Parent Trap as twin sisters Hallie and Annie, whose parents’ divorce led to them not only growing up apart, but completely unaware of each other. Unlikely? Perhaps. But it allowed Lohan to show a wide range of personalities and emotions — as well as accents — in a rare remake that went down as a critical and commercial hit. Steve Rhodes was one of the many critics who applauded her work, writing “The spunky Lindsay Lohan, the lead in Disney’s remake of The Parent Trap, is one of the best new actresses in years.”
Most actors who’ve played twins have done so using split-screen photography, a relatively arduous process that requires doubling the shots. But while The Social Network director David Fincher used split-screen for some of Armie Hammer’s scenes as the litigious Winklevoss twins, he also employed state-of-the-art technology to digitally graft Hammer’s face onto his body double, Josh Pence. Watching the final result must have been truly surreal for both Hammer and Pence, but most critics thought the effect — and the movie — was close to seamless. Observed Rick Groen of the Globe and Mail, “It has the staccato wit of a drawing-room comedy, the fatal flaw of a tragic romance and the buzzy immediacy of a front-page headline, all powered by a kinetic engine typically found in an action flick.”
Like Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Double Impact, Twin Dragons begins with a criminal act in Hong Kong, but its plot quickly becomes something altogether loopier and more entertaining, starting with the first act, where an escaped convict steals a baby from the hospital, leaving its twin behind and eventually abandoning it in the woods to be raised by a kindly alcoholic woman. It only gets nuttier from there — eventually, Jackie Chan ends up playing an American-raised classical musician as well as his long-lost mechanic twin brother — but the important thing is that it makes plenty of room for its star’s comedic gifts as well as his flair for spectacular feats of action derring-do. “It’s all pretty dumb,” shrugged the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Caro, “but if you’re in the mood for this sort of thing, you won’t have a bad time.”