Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Conned Into Seeing Duplicity

In Duplicity, CIA officer Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) and MI6 agent Ray Koval (Clive Owen) have left the world of government intelligence to cash in on the highly profitable cold war raging between two rival multinational corporations. Their mission? Secure the formula for a product that will bring a fortune to the company that patents it first. For their employers—industry titan Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and buccaneer CEO Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti)— nothing is out of bounds. But as the stakes rise, the mystery deepens and the tactics get dirtier, the trickiest secret for Claire and Ray is their growing attraction. And as they each try to stay one double-cross ahead, two career loners find their schemes endangered by the only thing they can’t cheat their way out of: love.

I remember when movies once had a beginning, middle and an end, all in chronological order. What happened to those days? Why, as in Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity, must audiences today carry a pad and pencil to keep track of the excessive jumps of years to catalog who did what to whom - in order to determine what they’re doing to each other today? Give me a break! Most moviegoers don’t go to the movies to work; they want to be entertained. Presumably some directors think you can cast big stars such as Clive Owen and Julia Roberts who will make all that work pay off. As charming as Roberts’ affable laugh is or how charismatic we find the talented and good-looking Owen, these traits do little to further a story if it’s inconceivable or muddled. In Duplicity, Owen plays Ray Koval, an ex-MI-5 operative. He finds his assignments intermingled with those of ex-CIA operative, Claire Stenwick (Roberts). They have several liaisons in luxurious hotels all over the world while seemingly working together one time and scamming each other at another. The idea of savvy agents playing each other, I feel, could’ve made an intriguing film had Gilroy not spent so much time with the flashback jumps, leaving the audience to make sense of the story. After the third one, I was exasperated. I don’t care if the scenery location is Dubai, London or Rome. A great story can unfold in a soup kitchen. In TV interviews before the movie opened, the stars played up the idea about Duplicity being more a war-of-words type movie than an agent-action film and it failed. Roberts and Owen throw out snippets of conversation that feel like lines they must then make fit into the story. Neither seems believable as the characters they portray. I would love to see Roberts tackle something like Erin Brockovich again. Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti are wasted in pitiful roles of rival CEOs whose opening scene resembles something one might see in a Marx Brothers comedy -- and one presenting even more work to figure out how it fits into the plot of the movie, which boils down to everyone stewing over a new product that will change the world. It’s up to the audience to decipher the play between the sheets as real or pretend here. Those who like working a Rubik’s Cube might find it appealing. Yet with a lack of charisma, sexual chemistry (which never evolves because the characters are rarely together) or sizzle, Duplicity left me sadly disappointed. A saddened 2 on my "Go See" scale. 

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