Spies, lies, and lovers’ heat make for a fun Duplicity
In “Duplicity” we get a little peek, for the first time, at how actor Clive Owen might have portrayed Agent 007 if he hadn’t turned down the role a few years back when the James Bond series went into re-boot. The likeable Brit is charismatic, vulnerable and looks great in a tux. (With acting chops to spare, see the excellent “Children of Men”)
But since the two latest Bond films seem to require only the steely, detached killing machine persona perfectly suited to Daniel Craig, maybe Owen’s rebuff was the best choice for all parties.
Too bad though, because as “Duplicity” proves, Owen has star power in spades and when coupled with Julia Roberts-an already proven star who now in her 40s keeps re-lighting her flame-a good film can border on greatness.
So it is with this twisty, smart, corporate caper that challenges the audience to keep up with its multiple flashbacks and storylines and seemingly relentless double-crosses. Instead of turning up the heat with terrorist undertones and reverting to tired bomb blasts and mindless gunfire, writer/director Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) keeps things interesting by investing heavily in the sparkling chemistry of its principals and a host of fascinating, quirky ensemble players.
Ray (Owen) and Claire (Roberts) are two ex-spies who realize they work in counter-intelligence for the same shampoo conglomerate. Or do they? Arch rivals Burkett & Randle and Equikrom are lead by two equally bombastic CEOs (Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti respectively), and will do anything to get inside information on each other’s next big product. The film assumes we buy into the concept that so much is at stake in the world of personal care products that technology on the level of that employed during the Cold War is now utilized to ferret out the latest big idea in hand cream…or is it lotion?
Though it is possible to get a little lost in the complex story lines, Owen and Roberts relish the opportunity to chew on the sly humor and romantic jousting, and their sharp banter and percolating mistrust keep us glued to the screen until the final twist.
It won’t receive the critical ballyhoo of his previous film, but where Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton” lacked imagination and surprise, “Duplicity” is a fun, witty romp-traversing Rome, London, the Bahamas and Manhattan at breakneck, but keenly edited speed-the kind that is sorely lacking in today’s cinema.
Gilroy’s latest effort is less self-serious perhaps, but serious about its entertainment value.
Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content.