Erin Shlockovich: Duplicity wastes talents of Julia Roberts, Clive Owen in contrived corporate thriller.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Writer/director Tony Gilroy – the director of Michael Clayton and The Bourne Ultimatum – runs his ship aground with a smarty-pants crime romance set amid the world of corporate espionage. Über spies Ray (played by Clive Owen) and Claire (played by Julia Roberts) get themselves in deep when they decide to leverage their mutual distrust of one another as a foundation for a romantic relationship. The wrongheaded decision makes Ray, an ex-MI6 double-spy, and Claire, a former CIA agent, double-double spies when it comes to stealing the formula for a mystery cream (or is it a lotion?) from a mega-corporation run by Tom Wilkinson’s blow-hard megalomaniac Howard Tully.
Paul Giamatti plays Tully’s rival corporate raider, Dick Garsik, whose goal is to hear the sound of Tully’s cojones hitting the floor. With flashbacks, flash-forwards and few flashes of inspiration, the movie flips around like a dying fish. Sure, Owen, Roberts, Giamatti and Wilkinson are all great to look at, but that hardly makes Duplicity anything more than a barely watchable crime thriller where the biggest thrill is getting up from your seat when it’s finally over.
The most captivating scene comes early on when Tully and Garsik engage in a slow-motion brawl on a rainy airport tarmac between their private jets while each rival’s personal team of advisers watch from a safe distance. The giants of industry shout angry words that are left up to the audience’s imagination as spit flies slowly from their contorted mouths. Once physically engaged in battle, the fight takes on a choreographed dance quality. It’s perhaps the film’s greatest sin that the story never finds its way back around to the how, why and wherefore of the humorous violent confrontation. Herein lies one of Tony Gilroy’s many flaws as the film’s screenwriter. He never gets straight whether to focus on the uncomfortable romance between his glamorous romantic leads, or to dive into the Gates/Jobs-styled competition. The film’s muddled message about the need for trust in a relationship will be smeared into windshield wiper residue.
Ray and Claire meet at a party in Dubai in 2003 where he seduces the fishy Claire, who enjoys their bed romp before drugging him and stealing documents taped under his hotel mattress. When he spots her years later while on a corporate intelligence mission at Grand Central Station, he confronts her. Claire tries to laugh this off and the amorously prickly scene becomes a touchstone for their uneasy union that follows. The dialogue is racy, but Gilroy makes one of the film’s many mistakes by repurposing the scene again and again as a MacGuffin that comes back to haunt the story.
Garsik’s team of spies, of which Ray is the newest member, steal an in-house speech Tully is about to give announcing a new mystery product that demands extra security until its public disclosure. Garsik has a shareholder’s meeting coming up and wants to beat Tully to the punch of announcing the new mystery product for his own company. The movie’s distracting flashbacks and creeping plot developments point to Ray and/or Claire obtaining Tully’s secret formula, which they hope to sell and use to retire to Italy.
Duplicity is so heavily back-loaded that it demands the audience take a leap of faith that all narrative debts will be paid off. No such luck. Grand Canyon-sized plot holes get a kitchen sink caulk job that drops our four protagonists/antagonists off roughly where they began. We’re left questioning how the movie evaporated in front of our eyes. It’s because there wasn’t much there to begin with.
DUPLICITY (2) Directed by Tony Gilroy. Starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson. PG-13, 118 mins. At Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Lighthouse Cinemas.