Hollywood’s Mixed-Up Gene Pool

Leave it to Hollywood to try to fool audiences into thinking that Walter Matthau and any woman could produce offspring in the form of Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow and Meg Ryan.

The three actresses, who, uh, aside from their gender have nothing but blond hair in common, co-star in Columbia Pictures’ “Hanging Up” (opening today) as sisters dealing with an aging father (Matthau).

“Hanging Up” The Pointer Sisters they are not. How do three kids — who in flashbacks appear close in age — grow up into a mismatched trio wherein Keaton suddenly looks (at least) 15 years older than Ryan and Kudrow? Welcome to Hollywood-style gene splicing.

“Hanging Up” is just the latest example of mismatched sibling combos. Consider:

— “Little Women”: The lack of family genes is very obvious in Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 remake featuring an Oscar-nominated turn by Winona Ryder. Ryder is but one of the four sisters; cast as her siblings are Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst and Trini Alvarado. At least Ryder and Alvarado have the same hair color, but the fair red-headed Danes and dirty blond Dunst are off in left field, and on opposite ends at that.

— “The Brothers McMullen”: Actor-writer-director Edward Burns, Jack Mulcahy and Mike McGlone could never pass as brothers. In fact, Burns and McGlone, who reunite in the “Brothers McMullen” follow-up “She’s the One,” look absolutely nothing alike. Well, unless they had different fathers and mothers.

— “Family Business”: In this little-seen 1989 Sidney Lumet bomb, a son (Matthew Broderick) estranged from his father (Dustin Hoffman) enlists the help of his career-criminal grandfather (portrayed by a very Scottish Sean Connery) to pull off a heist. Broderick, Hoffman and Connery are never believable as family — of this Earth, anyway. Connery begat Hoffman begat Broderick? Forget genetics, this is perhaps the most egregious example yet of star packaging gone awry. Speaking of Connery, witness the familial casting insanity in 1998’s “Playing by Heart.” Connery is married to Gena Rowlands, and their daughters are Gillian Anderson, Madeleine Stowe and Angelina Jolie. Uh, OK.

The problem also affects TV shows. Consider:

— “Sisters”: In this touchy-feely 1991-96 series, Sela Ward, Swoosie Kurtz and Julianne Phillips (Bruce Springsteen’s ex-wife, the one with really full lips) are about the funniest mismatched trio on television since “The Three Stooges.” The dark-haired Ward, who in her small cameo role at the beginning of the Harrison Ford starrer “The Fugitive” looks oddly like ice skater Nancy Kerrigan, would never be mistaken for the redhead Kurtz. Actually, does anyone in Hollywood resemble Kurtz?

“Eight Is Enough” — “Eight Is Enough”: Poor Adam Rich. He looked nothing like his non-mop-topped siblings on this 1970s show, and they looked nothing like him. (Which, at least, was consistent. The other faux siblings — particularly the five actresses cast as the five Bradford sisters — looked nothing like each other, either.) Apparently eight was not enough. “The Cosby Show” and even “The Brady Bunch” did it better.

— “Family Ties”: “I bet we’ve been together for a million years.” So says the theme song from this 1982-89 sitcom, but take a look at the original Keaton siblings (Michael J. Fox, Justine Bateman and Tina Yothers) and you know that “Family Ties” even a million years couldn’t make these three (later, four — when Brian Bonsall joined the cast) look like family. Fox and the little Bonsall could pass as brothers. Heck, even Fox and Bateman could pass as siblings with a little stretch of the imagination, but where did Tina Yothers’ Jennifer Keaton come from, with her big ’80s blond hair? The adoption agency?

But fear not, for all is not lost. Casting directors have made some uncannily good decisions for siblings. Julia Roberts and Kyra Sedgwick work as sisters in “Something to Talk About.” So the potential is out there.

And those Baldwin brothers sure do look a lot alike.