If, like me, you're not exactly filled with confidence when approaching a movie that's being pitched with the tag line, "From the producers of `Big Daddy,' " then "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" just might surprise you.

The story (executive-produced by longtime collaborators Adam Sandler and Jack Giarraputo) of a schmo who finds love by prostituting himself is actually funnier than it deserves to be, not to mention rather sweet in a sophomoric, manwhore-with-a-heart-of-gold kind of way. It's like one big, tasteless joke -- and yes, its gags about poop, flatulence, venereal disease, disability, sexual arousal and rectal exams are funny, if you like that sort of thing -- with a warm and fuzzy moral about self-esteem tucked inside its gooey, caramel-cream center.

But first, what's with the title? Isn't "Male Gigolo" a bit of a tautology, kind of like saying, "ATM machine"? Okay, so it's just for the rhythm of the thing ... and to make it sound more like "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective." If you liked that 1994 film and its sequel, then this may just be your cup of tea (feel free to substitute your favorite bodily fluid). Sure, as the titular Deuce, Rob Schneider is no Jim Carrey, but you liked the guy well enough with his "makin' copies" shtick on "Saturday Night Live," didn't you? How long are you going to hold "Men Behaving Badly" against him?

Like his old "SNL" buddy and now mentor Sandler, Schneider is very good at playing morons (Remember his Cajun idiot cameo from "The Waterboy"?). But like Sandler in "The Wedding Singer" and, to some degree, "Big Daddy," Schneider also cleans up really nicely when he decides to drop the drooling cretin bit and play it a bit straighter, in a story directed by first-timer Mike Mitchell and co-written by Harris Goldberg and Schneider .

That's why the "Deuce Bigalow" character works. The earnest if hapless fish tank cleaner and lonely single guy is not a hustling sleazebag at heart. He only decides to try his hand at the escort business as a last resort, when he needs to raise some fast cash after accidentally trashing the apartment of Antoine Laconte (the oleaginous Oded Fehr), a professional gigolo who has asked Deuce to babysit his aquarium and Malawi Bloat-infected Lionfish while he is away on business. Deuce has three weeks in which to raise $6,000 and scraping algae isn't going to cut it, so he hooks up with self-described man-pimp T.J. Hicks (the at once suave and disgustingly omnivorous Eddie Griffin) for a bout of "geeving weemen playsure," as Antoine would say.

Where "Deuce" gets all gushy in a good way is when he discovers that his gift lies not in sexual prowess (far from it) but rather in his ability to teach his clients -- a seven-foot-tall giantess, a narcoleptic, a Tourette's Syndrome sufferer and an obese thing named Jabba the slut -- to love themselves. In the process of his new-found career, he also meets and falls in love with Kate, played by comely newcomer Arija Bareikis (a poor man's Gwyneth Paltrow, but with a bit more meat on her bones than the Emaciated One). Kate is normal in almost every way, but has a handicap of sorts -- about which professional ethics oblige me to remain silent, even though for most people the surprise has already been ruined by the movie's ubiquitous and overly informative ad campaign.

Like Schneider and the movie itself, Bareikis (who one day might give Cameron Diaz a run for her money in the sexy comedienne department) walks that thin line between the offensive and the genuinely amusing.

I don't want to make too much of this -- "Deuce Bigalow" is, after all, no "Life Is Beautiful" -- but for what it is, an hour-and-a-half goof on kinky sex, bathroom humor and inner happiness, it's a considerable cut above the crop of recent features by other "SNL" alums like Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, Molly Shannon, David Spade and Norm Macdonald (who makes a fleeting appearance here).

"If you make a woman feel good about herself," Deuce teaches us in a lesson that applies as much to his character's as to his own movie's flaws, "it really doesn't matter what's wrong with you."


(R, 85 minutes) -- Contains obscenity, naked derrieres, sexual innuendo and a recurring joke involving a wet T-shirt. Area theaters.