Film Review by Kam Williams
Headline: More Chemistry than Coherency in Confusing Cat-and-Mouse Caper
Ray Koval (Clive Owen) enjoyed a 12-year tenure with MI6 as a spy for the British government before taking a job in the private sector to help protect the trade secrets of a corporate giant called Equikrom. Curiously, former CIA Agent Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) has followed a similar career path, leaving the American agency to work for Burkett and Randle, Equikrom’s primary rival in the cutthroat world of consumer products.
Headquartered in Manhattan skyscrapers located just across town from each other, the two firms are run by competitive CEOs obsessed with being the first to bring any new ideas to market. At the point of departure, we find Burkett and Randle‘s Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) on the verge of launching a new creation successfully kept under wraps while in development in the company pipeline. However, Equikrom’s Chairman, Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti), is very aware of the existence of “Project Sampson” and is intent on stealing the innovation by hook or by crook.
When word of the existence of a mole buried deep inside Burkett surfaces, Ray is given the assignment of rendezvousing with the employee said to be ready to hand over some priceless documents. To his amazement, the traitor turns out to be Claire, the same two-timing temptress who had once seduced and abandoned him after a one-night stand years ago in Dubai when they both were still spies for their respective countries.
With sparks flying between them again, they cautiously rekindle their romance while talking shop about their gigs as corporate sleuths. This leads to the lovebirds hatching a plan to double-cross both of their unsuspecting bosses. The scheme essentially involves selling Burkett’s new top secret formula to a Swiss company for $40 million and then retiring to live happily-ever-after in the lap of luxury together.
This is the intriguing premise underpinning Duplicity, an uneven espionage thriller written and directed by Tony Gilroy who landed a couple of Oscar nominations a year ago for Michael Clayton. Unfortunately, this picture pales in comparison to that relatively-riveting cat-and-mouse caper in terms of coherency and intensity. The film’s fatal flaw is the confusing chronology grafted on the picture’s ambitious plotline which is already laced with a tad too many twists for its own good.
Abandoned by the inscrutable script are seasoned character actors Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti, who deliver decent performances as crooked captains of industry locked in a corporate death match. The best thing going for this needlessly-complex potboiler is the chemistry generated periodically by Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, reunited on screen for the first time since appearing opposite each other in Closer in 2004. But even their romance, riddled with trust issues, seems like a poor man’s version of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the steamy spy-versus-spy drama starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Overall, a disappointing exercise in achingly-familiar irritainment.
Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexuality.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 125 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Film Review by Kam Williams