Film Reviews

DUETS

By • Sep 15th, 2000 •

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BRUCE PALTROW KILLS KARAOKE!

This is Bruce Paltrow’s second feature film. The first was A LITTLE SEX, released in 1982.

All I can say is: “Some people do get second chances!”

Okay, okay, I know. The director/producer’s daughter is movie star Gwyneth Paltrow. (Did Brad Pitt back out of DUETS because he busted up with Gwyneth, or did he read the script?)

DUETS is about losers who know they are losers and are depressed about it. Depressed losers make terrible “likeable” characters. All these losers are obsessed with karaoke. If the film did its subject matter any justice, we would leave the theater entertaining the idea of jumping on stage at a karaoke bar, but instead we say: “Wow. I thought bowling was lame.”

Here’s the cast of characters: a waitress, Suzi (played by Maria Bello) who is so desperate to get to California that she gives oral favors to get everything she needs: hotel room, car painted, food, etc.; an ex-con named Reggie (Andre Braugher) still running from the law but with a great singing voice; an abysmal salesman, Todd (Paul Giamatti), who stumbles upon karaoke one night and becomes its Saint Peter. He abandons everything – wife, children, job, and home – for karaoke redemption. There is also a karaoke hustler played by Huey Lewis who also happens to be the long lost father of “innocent” Vegas showgirl Liv (Gwyneth Paltrow). (“Innocent,” “Showgirl,” and “Gwyneth” – you do the thinking on this configuration yourself!) Dad turns up in Liv’s life immediately upon the death of her showgirl mother. Liv isn’t grieving much for Mom and quickly embraces the idea of living and working with Dad. And finally there’s “young down-on-his-luck” cab driver Billy, played by Scott Speedman. (If Speedman actually read the script, he knew this turkey wouldn’t be blamed on him).

All these uninteresting people are headed for Omaha, Nebraska for the $5,000 Grand Prize Karaoke Contest.

You know what Holiday Inn bars are like on a Tuesday night? This movie celebrates that night. The direction lumbers on and is sloppy. (One scene, in a character’s apartment, shows the entrance door with industrial hardware on top.) All the scenes in the karaoke bars are populated with people who look like they were paid $5 an hour to be “background.” They only clapped for food. The principal actors appear to be in pain. Gwyneth looks befuddled by Dad’s direction: all she can do is crunch down her eyebrows in despair. It’s clear that Gwyneth needs a certain kind of director who can wring a SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE/THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY performance out of her.

The funniest lines and worst performance go to Paul Giamatti. He knows this is a big role for him and he chews up the scenery by screaming his lines at his fellow actors. He’s fat, sloppy, disheveled, and playing ‘crazy’. He’s a smart actor: he knows he’s got all the clever lines and everyone else just wants to get paid and move on to another job. But a fat and sloppy, disheveled, and playing ‘crazy’ character should not dominate a movie. DUETS becomes a movie about him. And you don’t want to know him – even if you’re stuck in Omaha at a Holiday Inn and it’s a Tuesday night.

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