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DUPLICITY (2009) ** movie review by COOP

Posted on March 24th, 2009
Posted on March 24th, 2009


“Duplicity” is what happens when a writer creates a moderately clever script but the translation to the big screen doesn’t measure up. Writer/Director Tony Gilroy’s follow up to the highly overrated “Michael Clayton” further justifies my boredom with his work by offering up a light caper film with very few laughs, a mostly sour romance and a thick-as-molasses intrigue plot that fails to surprise despite multiple plot twists.

Clive Owen plays Ray Koval, a former MI-6 agent hired to work in corporate espionage for manic cosmetics CEO Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti). It appears that Garsik’s rival company, headed by the sly Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson), has developed a “top secret” cosmetic product that will put Garsik out of business. Koval and his team aim to steal the product’s formula using a mole in Tully’s counterintelligence department. To Koval’s dismay, the mole, Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts), is an ex-CIA agent that duped him and ruined his reputation during an operation in Dubai six years prior. As Koval and Stenwick begrudgingly work together, we learn through a series of flashbacks that the two have a lot more history than they let on.

It’s like “Ocean’s Eleven,” except everyone’s stabbing each other in the back and no one is having any fun. The impressive cast radiates zero charisma since the best actors (Giamatti and Wilkinson) don’t get to interact except for the genius opening credits sequence where they engage in a slow-motion slap fight in front of their horrified employees.

Owens and Roberts last shared the screen in Mike Nichols’ superior “Closer” which boiled the screen with intense relationship drama. While they do exhibit some chemistry, both work better when their characters are at each other’s throats. I appreciate that Roberts scowled most of the film instead of overexposing her famous, gaping smile, but she still doesn’t provide much to compliment. She’s no longer the romantic comedy darling of the 90’s or the dramatic powerhouse of the early 00’s. I hope she will realize she’s not a bankable star anymore, prompting her to take some more daring roles to finally break free of her cinematic comfort zone. Owens continues to deliver fine performances, but I’d rather see him in something more serious. He does his best work in tense dramas and action so I hope he cashes his paycheck on this one and never looks back.

The studio marketing department made a huge mistake in the promotional trailers by telegraphing the con job that Koval and Stenwick try to pull on their employers. This could’ve been a great twist early on, but I suppose the chemistry/romance potential between Owen and Roberts took precedent as a larger selling point. Despite the misstep, the story offers multiple twists to keep the audience guessing all the way until the end. The problem is that none of these twists fail to shock. The plot reaches points where the twist will render either an A or B result (i.e. who will betray who?). With so much double-crossing in the story, the betrayals become tiresome, leading up to a final twist that’s both frustrating and contrived. Roberts and Owens can’t even give us much of a romance when they spend most of their time putting each other through mean-spirited tests to determine the other’s loyalty. Oh well… at least “Duplicity” is an apt title.

The non-existent tension in these light and breezy caper films usually inspires me to avoid the genre all together. “The Italian Job” remains the best recent example of this category, and I’ve yet to see any on the horizon that aspire to top it. The “Oceans” franchise (which many enjoy due to its fun tone), always struck me as a bunch of overpaid actors goofing off between more substantial projects. “Duplicity” could’ve at least matched “Ocean’s” entertainment level if it had less double crossing and more humor. The only scene where I remember laughing heartily was the aforementioned Giamatti/Wilkinson opening credits slap-down.

If you must see a light caper film starring Julia Roberts, “Duplicity” is your only choice at the box office, so knock yourself out. It might appeal to many casual movie-goers as long as they don’t expect any new or exciting.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Trailer below…

-Coop
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