October 2, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 20  

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Stiller and Barrymore bomb in Duplex

By Laura Katsirdakis
Gazette Staff


Duplex

Starring: Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore, Eileen Essell, Harvey Fierstein
Directed by: Danny DeVito

Danny DeVito cranks out another one. Duplex is rated PG-13, but it might as well be G-rated; the barf jokes and physical comedy make the film seem almost cartoony.

In fact, the movie starts off with a cheesy cartoon reminiscent of I Dream of Genie/Bewitched, showing the main characters searching for just the right place to live in New York City. The couple settles on a duplex in Brooklyn, which seems perfect... except for the unassuming little old lady upstairs. She drives the couple crazy " eventually costing both their jobs. So, naturally, they begin a string of clumsy attempts to murder her.

For anyone who likes to feel empathy for characters in a story, this movie will make you frustrated and angry. Duplex starts off as a quaint comedy and shifts to a dark one, but the main characters do not make a similar transition. Rather, they remain cutesy-nice throughout the movie. No normal couple would be so sugary sweet throughout a plot depicting frustration that drives them to make several murder attempts.

Barrymore puts out a spectacularly awful performance. She is completely unbelievable in her role. She is not only unbelievable as a wife (no normal wife is constantly that sweet/cute/cheerful), but as an attempted murderer, she is even less convincing. She giggles as she fantasizes about killing and this should be funny just because of the irony, but somehow she just doesnÍt pull it off. The viewer starts to get the impression the score is being used to set the mood because the actors canÍt do it on their own.

Duplex has an uncanny similarity to roadrunner cartoons; the old lady upstairs is the elusive roadrunner and the main characters are the coyote. The couple keeps trying to get the old lady and they keep dropping the anvil on themselves instead. Hilarity does not ensue. Could this cartoon-feel be because one of the writers is formerly of The Simpsons?

The film cannot decide what form of comedy it will use. There is an overload of romantic comedy-ish quaint cheeky jokes, making Barrymore seem like a Julia Roberts wannabe. Then there is the physical comedy.

Some of it is light, like when granny pre-chews food for her macaw, feeds it to him and then licks her fingers, both bird and old lady ending up with mashed up food all over their face/beak. There are also some pretty violent scenes: granny impaling an intruder, nearly choking to death, nearly burning in a fire. The audience canÍt help but be confused: is this funny or not?

DeVitoÍs resum³ is stacked with very similar films. If Throw Mama From the Train and War of the Roses were morphed together and performed with sub-par acting jobs, youÍd get Duplex. It seems as if he was pressured into producing a sure-fire hit and decided to (not so subtly) remake his old successes. If this film is not a dis-incentive to use old formulas to bake up new movies, I donÍt know what is.

 

 

 

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