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The older, more jaded generations have always complained that modern pop culture is too homogenous: All your starlets look the same, all your music sounds alike, all your movies share the same plots. For the most part, that's bullshit, but every once in a while some intriguing evidence surfaces that indicates there actually might be a celebrity factory out there somewhere, just stamping Zooey Deschanel's face onto a porn star's body and giving us soulless clone armies of Katy Perrys. I'm not saying the following people all look perfectly alike; I'm saying that there's a strange, indefinable aura of familiarity surrounding everything they do. There's a weird kind of sameness about each of these people that leads you to believe they really might be just some cheap palette-swapped version of another celebrity. For instance:

#12 - #10. Tobey Maguire and Elijah Wood and Topher Grace

They all occupy the "loveable nerd who inexplicably pulls hot women" slot on the actorboard. Sure, they share a look in common -- slight, kind of pasty, big doe eyes that implore you to preserve the sanctity of their innocence even as those pouty lips beg you to take it away from them -- but it's more than looks. There's something to the way they stand and the way they move that just screams "I have way too much lunch money and love punches; why won't somebody help me?"

That's not fair, of course: Tobey Maguire bulked way the hell up for Spider-Man, and any attempt to wedgie him now would end with the assailants finding out what their own teeth taste like. And Elijah Wood played that creepy dude in Sin City a little too well to be pure acting; you know that guy probably carries around a claw hammer everywhere he goes and just waits for some meathead to scratch his murder-itch.

But even though you know it's objectively silly to sense any kind of nerdly weakness in them, it's still there, isn't it? They each have this vague, victimized-and-now-I'm-totally-unstable-because-of-it aura. The interchangeability is even acknowledged in their own movie roles: In the Spider-Man comics, Eddie Brock -- the man behind Venom - looks like this:


He's huge, square-jawed and jockish; he's the opposite of everything Peter Parker. But when it came time to cast him in the movie, the producers went with this:

And you know it's because somebody sat down and said: "OK, we're casting Venom. He's like the anti-Spider-Man, so we need the antithesis of Tobey Maguire. You know: Somebody like him, but evil."

And somebody else raised their hand and timidly put forth: "What about that kid from That '70s Show?"

"You mean Elijah Wood?"

"No, that's the hobbit. The skinny kid, with the hair!"

"Like the one from Pleasantville?"


"That's fucking Tobey Maguire!"


#9 - #8. Patrick Swayze and Kurt Russell

Aw, bullshit. Nobody honestly gets these two confused. Patrick Swayze was Point Break. He was Ghost. He was badass, but also kind of sensitive. Kurt Russell exclusively played characters whose middle name was Motherfuckin'. He was Snake Motherfuckin' Plissken. He was Jack Motherfuckin' Burton. They each carved out their own niche in the cultural zeitgeist, and it's downright disrespectful to confuse them, right? Right. But you have to admit, that niche is pretty similar -- they both habitually played stoic, stone-jawed badasses who'd pull your throat out just as soon as look at you:

Or else they played long-haired rebels who defied authority at all costs, even if it screwed them in the process:

But even still, there's no mistaking Russell and Swayze in their iconic roles. When you start venturing out of those bounds, however, the mullet waters get a little bit muddy. What about the movie where Steven Seagal fights a plane? Was Russell in that one? Executive something?

Now, what about the one with the trucker versus the evil ... other truckers? I think it had Meatloaf in it. That sounds like a Russell deal for how silly it is, but the working-class overtones could put it firmly in Swayze territory.

What about that terrible remake with the upside-down boat? That had to be Swayze. Swayze did water stuff; he was Bodhi. He had spirituality firing out of both assholes. Swayze was a dude you just know was at home with the sea. If there's a boat, Swayze's on it.

Nope! That was Russell.

It's like our brains come hard-wired with enough room for one guy who looks good in a mullet and a tank top, and that's it. If there's ever more than one to keep track of, our frontal lobes just shunt them off into the Mulletsphere and their individual identities are lost forever.

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#7 - #6. Nick Nolte and Gary Busey

This one was only valid up until about 10 years ago, before all of Gary Busey's screen time became devoted solely to documentaries about how crazy he was, and all of Nick Nolte's went to, I don't know, whatever actors do when they stop getting film roles. Commercials for local furniture stores? Amateur porn? Guinea pigs for science?

But back in the mid-'80s to mid-'90s, it seemed like every other movie had a spot reserved for "unstable middle-aged blond guy," and the two men fought tooth and nail for every gig. They even got their breaks in a strangely similar fashion: Nolte made his fame in 48 Hours, a buddy-cop movie with Eddie Murphy, while Busey broke out as a villain in Lethal Weapon, THE buddy-cop movie, with a similarly proto-psycho Gibson. Man, that's a pretty epic crazy curse for one film. Did the whole cast get drunk and make fun of a mentally disabled gypsy or something?

But their typecasting wasn't quite the same: Nolte played frazzled middle-aged cops, Busey played psychotic ex-vets with terrifying horse-teeth.

So you should be able to guess the man by the role, right? Let's try it: Point Break -- frazzled middle-aged cop just trying to break the big case. Nolte or Busey? Nolte, right? His face just screams "too old for this shit." Sorry! It was Busey in Point Break. What about the crazy old Vietnam vet in Tropic Thunder? Busey? Nope, that was Nolte, busting the typecasting.

Those were easy. Let's step up the difficulty a little: Which one played the crazy abusive father in The Hulk? Could go either way -- the paternal overtones say Nolte; the crazy says Busey. Who was the straight-laced, overzealous FBI agent in Predator 2? "Straight-laced" says Nolte, while "overzealous" is practically tattooed on Busey's forehead. Of course, the game all falls apart after Busey had his motorcycle accident and suffered severe swelling of the acronym lobe. Then it becomes way too easy to spot the differences: Busey is the drugged-out psycho who looks like he lives under the boardwalk and snatches stray children like a bridge troll.


While Nolte is-


Oh, right.

#5 - #4. Bill Paxton and Bill Pullman

Well, it's easy to see where this one comes from: It's all in the name, isn't it? Bill Last-Name-Starts-With-a-P. Seems like a pretty basic thing to get confused about, though: It's not like they're both middle-of-the-road white guys with dignified crow's feet and sandy hair who frequently star as heroic everymen ...


Hmm, all right. There's more to it than the name. But you can separate by role here, too: Pullman is the boring one. He plays the straight man. Paxton is the crazy guy, playing all the wackier parts that need some white bread stuffed up in 'em. Pullman was the president from Independence Day; Paxton was the panicky Game Over marine from Aliens. So quick: Who played the goofy Han Solo parody in Spaceballs? Paxton, right? Or shit, was it Pullman? You know what? I think it was actually Face from The A-Team:


Now, who played the generic American science-hero in Twister? Pullman, has to be. There was nothing zany about that role, and Paxton is too panicky and sweaty for a respectable hero type. Wait, no, was it Paxton? Scary Movie 4? Now that's all Paxton, baby. Pullman has way too much dignity to star alongside a Wayans brother. Wrong again? Well damn. Here's an easy one: Which one was in that Apollo space movie? Sounds like a serious, dignified flick. Probably Pullman.

Nope, Paxton.

Nope! Pullman.

OK, you guys are just fucking with us now.

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#3 - #1. Guy Fieri and Smash Mouth Are Both Sammy Hagar

Look, if Guy Fieri were a band, he'd be Smash Mouth. Inside all of us, there's a strange little flicker of intelligence dedicated to knowing just and only that fact. If Smash Mouth were a show, it would be Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. If Guy Fieri were a song, he'd be "All Star." They're both chubby white guys in loud shirts with frosted tips and elaborate sunglasses. You know just from looking at them that they're both way into convertibles and chillaxing, and they obviously own hammocks instead of couches. That's the kind of guys they are: It's like they both saw that Rodney Dangerfield movie about college and decided that was it for them -- that's who they're going to be. Forever. They're a vintage kind of bro they just don't make anymore; they're throwbacks to a bygone era. They're bro-backs.

But there was a progenitor to the bro-back who is not often credited. There is Sammy Hagar:


Slightly different hair, but same frosted tips, same posture, same attitude. He's the exact same loudmouthed, perpetually be-sunglassed stocky dude that you can tell at a glance must smell like Bud-sweat and taco shells. Clearly, Guy Fieri and Sammy Smash Mouth were both huge post-Roth Van Halen fans (making them literally the only ones on Earth, including Hagar himself; he knows what he did). It's like they both went to their personal stylist on the same day, sat down in chairs beside one another, and simultaneously said "Just give me the Hagar!" At which point they swiveled to face one another with giant smiles, and have been inseparable ever since.

Hey, I'm not just making this shit up!

See that? That's Smash Mouth's new cookbook, featuring Guy Fieri! What? Why is Smash Mouth a cookbook now? Didn't they used to be a band? A band best known for their feel-good brand of chubby Southern Californian rock and roll, and not their kickin' chili recipes? Well not anymore: The band that did "Walkin' on the Sun" just accidentally put out a cookbook, because even Smash Mouth and Fieri have forgotten the fine line that separates them. It's just another side effect of the indefinable bond that links them inexorably together via the Brososphere for all eternity.

Don't laugh. The Brososphere is totally a thing. Everybody knows that. It links all bros into a single hivemind.

Don't believe me? Then explain the name that appears halfway down that Amazon page. Directly after Fieri. Yep. Look who else is in this cookbook: another musician who has absolutely nothing to do with the culinary arts, and therefore has no legitimate reason to be making guest appearances in recipe collections ...

If you read this book while listening to Nickelback, you'd probably create some kind of bro singularity and be instantly compressed into a single particle of supermatter as dense as a billion containers of Extreme Hold Hair Gel. The resulting explosion would be so bright, you'd need a million pairs of red-and-chrome sunglasses just to keep from being blinded, and the deafening shock wave that followed would be louder than all the Hawaiian shirts on Earth.

Buy Robert's stunning, transcendental, orgasmic science fiction novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here. Or buy Robert's other (pretty OK) book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.

For more from Brockway, check out 5 Most Terrifyingly Homoerotic Japanese Music Videos and The 8 Manliest Foreign Movie Posters Ever.

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