Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: Duplicity

I happened to catch DUPLICITY this weekend and my review of it runs pretty much in line with everyone else who saw it. Julia Roberts has finally found a role she can just have fun with as the Machiavellian ex-CIA agent Claire Stenwick. But watching her play sharp and conniving against all those years of sweet and cute is hard to enjoy when you’re scratching your head trying to find out what the heck is going on.

You see, Claire has not left the CIA for a gig helping a multi-billion-dollar cosmetics firm protect its secrets. Or has she? In fact, she and a one-time lover and ex-MI6 agent, Ray Koval (Clive Owen), are forced to work together by a rival firm to steal her company’s biggest secret. Or are they?

From a writer’s perspective, there are too many reversals to keep track of, with not enough edge to muster any urgency. Who’s plotting against whom? What’s really going? Why should we care?

DUPLICITY looks like it was a fun movie to make, with a lot of laughing in between takes. And like the OCEANS’ 11-13 trilogy, you get the sense that the cast is sharing some private joke without sharing it with the audience. As a comedy, it falls flat because it depends too much on the lackluster chemistry of its two leads. And it takes a comedy powerhouse like Paul Giamatti and wastes him as a flat, blustery CEO with no depth. For me, the funniest scene in this movie is the one where Giamatti and his arch-rival, played by Tom Wilkinson, are slugging it out in front of their private jets, and they don’t have another scene together for the whole movie.

The big issue with this movie is that it doesn’t connect to the audience’s empathy. It’s about two mega-corporations trying to screw each other, and two conniving spies trying to screw them both for a zillion bucks so they never have to work again. Director Tony Gilroy was obviously looking to go lighter after the dour MICHAEL CLAYTON, but presents an overly complicated story that is fun enough if the audience tries hard enough.

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