Duplex: Delightfully devilish

Sept. 30, 2003, midnight | By Nick Falgout | 17 years, 3 months ago

Have you ever wanted to just kill someone? Because there are situations that some of us normal people like to call "justifiable homicides" (for example, when that guy sitting next to you in the movie theatre talks on his cell phone through the entire film), where killing the person in question would be a service not only to you, but to all of humanity.

So yeah, Duplex. Good flick.

Here's the deal. A normal young, American couple, Alex Rose (the often-hilarious Ben Stiller), a fledgling writer, and Nancy Kendricks (the up-and-coming Drew Barrymore), a high-falutin magazine editor, decide to move into the perfect New York City abode: an old-fashioned, Brooklyn-located, young-couple affordable little duplex. The only caveat provided by sleazy realtor Kenneth (the scraggly-voiced Harvey Fierstien) is a "sweet little old lady" tenant upstairs. The situation seems ideal: Alex will have a quiet place to finish his second book, they will finally have a place of their own, and best of all, Nancy gets all kinds of decorative license. Woo-hoo!

But things go from blissfully happy to decidedly mediocre in the couple's first night in their new home, as Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essel), the "sweet little old lady" verbally assaults the couple's house-warming gift (a bottle of wine), Alex's profession ("I always though of writing as more of a hobby"), and refuses to show the excited Nancy around the apartment. Then, as the couple tries to break in their new bed, Mrs. Connelly's television blares through the all-too-thin roof above them.

From there, not even Shakespeare himself could have written a better comedy of errors. Alex is craftily conned into spending the day shopping with Mrs. Connelly, who counts out everything by ones, from medication to pennies to grapes. Nancy is fired from her job after accidentally replacing pictures of the top restaurants in the area with ones of her hubby. The reason? She was distracted by a call from Mrs. Connelly.

After a truly disgusting scene involving a turkey carcass being shoved down a sink without a garbage disposal and the subsequent clean-up by Alex and Nancy (think splattering turkey innards and projectile vomit), the straws are starting to get mighty heavy. One breaks their backs when Mrs. Connelly throws the computer containing Alex's second book at a rat and into the fireplace. Alex grabs it with a coat, runs down the stairs and out the door, but slips on the front steps, sending the computer into the street, where it is promptly run over by a tow-truck.

Now, nothing short of killing their life-ruining upstairs neighbor will do.

The plot isn't even the best part of Duplex. The on-screen chemistry between Stiller and Barrymore is electrifying and captivating; it's hard to believe they aren't really married. Stiller's Alex is a down-to-earth, practical, sarcastic kind of guy, perfectly complimented by Barrymore's Nancy, who is full of frivolous, light-hearted, girly tendencies. The interactions between those two and the annoyingly old and judgmental Connelly are spot-on and delightful.

The humor in Duplex isn't unforced (barring the slapstick lapses), and the funny just flows from the well-written screenplay. The seriousness and frankness with which Stiller and Barrymore daydream about killing their cranky old neighbor is particularly sidesplitting.

Director Danny DeVito has been establishing himself, slowly but surely, as a master of the dark comedy, with Matilda and Death to Smoochy under his belt. With Duplex, a first-rate film, DeVito may finally be able to claim that title.

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Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »

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