Double the fun in "Duplicity"

March 23, 2009, midnight | By Deepa Chellappa | 13 years, 2 months ago

Devilishly clever flick mixes romance with intrigue

"Duplicity" is a film of double-crosses, double-entendres and double the charm of traditional spy thrillers. With more plot twists than a pretzel, this ultra-sophisticated love story is smart, droll and dazzling. Although at times keeping up with director Tony Gilroy's Rubik's Cube of a story line can become truly exhausting, the excellent casting and clever satire make the film truly superior entertainment.

Starring Clive Owen and Julia Roberts as Ray and Claire, a couple of ex-spies in love and now deep in a world of corporate espionage, "Duplicity" pits two pharmaceutical companies and their CEOs against one another. Burkett & Randle, led by Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) has allegedly discovered a mysterious, revolutionary skin cream while Equikrom, headed by Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti), seeks to steal the formula. Meanwhile, Claire and Ray plot a scheme by which they will spy for the rival businesses and hopefully end up in possession of enormously profitable secrets.

"Duplicity" bears more than a passing resemblance to "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," but the new film has a much higher IQ and manages to cut out all the gunshots and blood without sacrificing interest. In fact, it is noteworthy that the closest "Duplicity" comes to violence is a hilarious airport runway wrestling match between Tully and Garsik, executives who talk the language of total war even though their battlefield is the global market for shampoos and moisturizing creams.

This basic set-up forms the foundation of the movie, and frankly, even if the audience wanted more details, "Duplicity's" plot is so complex, it is difficult to fully convey. And herein lies one of the film's only weaknesses: it is far too smart for its own good.

"Duplicity" makes the your head spin like it does after a roller coaster ride and at the end, you may never be sure what really transpired between Claire and Ray and Tully and Garsik and B&R and Equikrom. Just as Claire and Ray are forced to learn to have faith in one other, so too must the audience sit back, enjoy the scenery that leaps back and forth between months and years and locations without abandon, and trust that Gilroy knows where the story is headed.

Luckily, the perfect chemistry between Owen and Roberts makes the bumpy ride both charming and cheeky. There are very few moments of typical romance in "Duplicity," but the scenes featuring just Owen and Roberts sizzle with subtle passion and intensity.

Perhaps the best evidence of Gilroy's genius is that you never miss Roberts and Owen when they are not on screen because they are so well supported by an army of eccentric and perfectly casted actors. Giamatti and Wilkinson are a wonderful pair, embodying different styles of corporate arrogance while their employees (including Kathleen Chalfant, Tom McCarthy and Denis O'Hare) display classic treachery, slyness and incompetence. Funniest of all is Carrie Preston, pathetic but precious as a lonely B&R employee taken advantage of by Owen - all in the name of his lucrative plan.

The film ends with a host of surprises that are - you guessed it - more complicated and interwoven than those of the previous hour. While you may leave the theater not knowing who or what to believe, the fun of "Duplicity" lies in watching Roberts and Owen fencing with snappy dialogue while trying to keep straight faces and read each other's minds. Gilroy may make you work for it, but the film undoubtedly earns a reputation as an elegant, lighthearted antidote to recent grimmer news of bankruptcies and corporate bonuses.

Duplicity (125 minutes) is rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

Deepa Chellappa. The high point of Deepa's life thus far occurred when she waved to Mickey Mouse at a Disney World parade and he blew her a kiss in return. Needless to say, she hates Minnie with a passion. In her free time, Deepa can be found … More »

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