June 13, 1988 12:00 PM

The Ratliff twins, played by Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin, are headin’ up North from West Virginia to “kick some snotty New York ass.” These country girls are fired up because the backwoods furniture business that employs them is about to be sold off by a Manhattan conglomerate. The Shelton twins, also played by Midler and Tomlin, run the hostile company. Midler is the iron hand; Tomlin meekly follows her lead. “Wispy, wispy, wispy,” snaps Bette contemptuously. The city Lily is seized by “weird attacks of domesticity.” The country Bette longs, “for five minutes in my life,” to be a glamorous corporate raider like Joan Collins on Dynasty. What we have here is a classic comedy of mistaken identity (born to different parents, the two sets of twins were mixed up at birth). The story has been deftly updated from Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors by the debuting screenwriting team Dori Pierson and Marc Rubel. Dori and Marc are first cousins; his mother and her sister are twins—they are also Dori’s aunts. Got all that? No matter. The double scoop of Midler and Tomlin is irresistible; they make a red-hot, roaringly funny comedy team. But Jim Abrahams, who co-directed Airplane! and Ruthless People, takes pains not to turn the movie into a two-, er, four-woman show. There is expert support from Edward Herrmann and Daniel Gerroll as the city Bette’s gay corporate gofers. The city Lily is romanced by a miniature-golf pro, beautifully played by Fred (The Right Stuff) Ward, who mistakes her for her country counterpart. Soon everyone is confused, especially Joe Grifasi as a hapless clerk at the Plaza Hotel, where the characters and the plot eventually converge. A highlight of this fireball farce comes when the city Bette spots her country double in the Plaza ladies room and shrieks: “My God, it’s me with a bad haircut.” Midler’s inspired collaboration with Tomlin, who admittedly has less to do, is a reminder of how rare great women comedy teams are. Sure we had Lucy and Ethel on the tube. But the movies, from Abbott & Costello to Cheech & Chong, have been dominated by male teams. Tomlin joined with Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda in 9 to 5, and Midler with Shelley Long in Outrageous Fortune, but with uneven results. We didn’t ache for more. Now that Bette has met Lily, we do. Again, please. Soon. (PG)

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