Duplicity full movie review - Slick But Shallow Fluff
Oscar-nominated "Michael Clayton" writer & director Tony Gilroy serves audiences a soufflé of sorts in the shallow new Julia Roberts & Clive Owen romantic comedy about jet-setting, globe-trotting corporate spies.
Roberts and Owen, who previously co-starred in Mike Nichols' drama "Closer" (2004), keep turning the tables on each other. They love one another so much that they don't trust each other. Ultimately, however, they have the tables turned on them. Mind you, this should come as no surprise to anybody who suffers through this predictable, 125-minute, PG-13 rated comedy of errors. Sadly, "Duplicity" strives to be too smart for its own good, and everything collapses like a soufflé amid Gilroy's Machiavellian plotting. In a way, "Duplicity" imitates last year's assassination thriller "Vantage Point," but it substitutes crisp verbal repartee for crackling violence. The action in this lively industrial espionage epic occurs in splintered chronological spirals that create more confusion than they clear up. Meaning, time jumps around so erratically that you may get lost along the way. The clean-scrubbed charismatic principals generate a lot of chemistry, but they keep having the same conversations in different settings around the world. Indeed, "Duplicity" is not the kind of movie you can follow if you are either sending text messages or get hung up in a line at the concession stand. You'll come back in lost, and your date will have a devil of a time summarizing what you didn't see. After a while, "Duplicity" becomes annoying, even if it boasts splendid photography, scenic settings, and slick editing.
Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts of "Charlie Wilson's War") is a seasoned CIA agent, and Ray Koval (Clive Owen of "Sin City") is her cloak & dagger counterpart at British MI-6. Wait a minute, who's going to accept Julia Roberts as a CIA agent? Well, since "Duplicity" is a comedy, okay. The role fits Owen like a glove, however, but then he was in the running once to play James Bond. Conversely, Roberts looks like she ought to be selling Tupperware. The action opens five years in the past when Claire and Koval meet for the first time at the American Consulate during a Fourth of July party in Dubai,one of the United Arab Emirates. Koval picks her up, but she outwits him and steals top-secret Egyptian air defense codes that he had stashed under the box springs of his mattress. Actually, naughty little Claire drugged unsuspecting Koval, and he hasn't recovered from her audacity. He catches up with Claire five years later in New York City's Grand Central Station, but she acts like she doesn't remember him. Since their initial encounter in Dubai, our protagonists have retired from international intrigue and have become agents in industrial intrigue.
"Duplicity" concerns the cutthroat competition between two multinational corporations, Equikrom and Burkett & Randle, and they are determined to corner world markets. In fact, they worry more about what the other is doing than what they ought to be doing. Think of them as the fictional equivalents of Pepsi-Cola versus Coca-Cola, but they manufacture everything from soap to medical products. Claire and Koval decide to exploit this feud for their own gain. They go to work for Equikrom. Koval serves as her supervisor, while she goes undercover as a mole into Burkett & Randle. The problem is that neither Claire nor Koval evoke any interest as characters. They constantly spar with each other, but they have no more depth than Gilroy's giddy dialogue. You know a movie is in trouble when the supporting characters prove far more provocative than the primary characters. Equikrom's devious leprechaun like CEO Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti of "Shoot'em Up") and Burkett & Randall's head honcho Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson of "Michael Clayton") are rivals to the death. Gilroy shows how much they abhor each other over the slow-motion title credits. They meet on the tarmac at an airport and tangle like wrestlers while their staffs watch in horror. When he learns about a fabled new product Burkett & Randall are about to unveil, Garsik launches a full-scale espionage compaign with Claire and Koval to find out what it is.
"Duplicity" is Julia Roberts' first starring role since the woebegone "Mona Lisa Smile" in 2003. She looks sparkling but terribly miscast. The real scene stealers are Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson. Carrie Preston has some memorable moments as a gullible travel agent that our hero in disguise seduces to gain access to a Burkett & Randall building. The use of multiple flashbacks obliterates any coherence in a movie that should have been as light and dry as a martini. Clearly, Gilroy?who has written better movies such as "Dolores Claiborne" (1995) and the Matt Damon "Bourne" spy trilogy?tries to conceal the absence of substance by swirling past and present timelines. In the end, "Duplicity" is a harmless but loquacious exercise in silliness that contains none of the violence of the Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie spy comedy "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." The hero and heroine wind up in bed a couple of times for amoral premarital sex, but nudity is confined to an out-of-focus glimpse of a bare-breasted Roberts. Profanity is held to a half-dozen words, so there is nothing really offensive on hand. "Dark Knight" composer James Newton Howard's orchestral score infuses "Duplicity" more energy than anything Roberts and Owen pull off as a pair. The eleventh hour revelation about the product that Burkett & Randal is manufacturing proves rather lame. Happily, "Duplicity" is the kind of movie that you'll forget in no time.