Duplex review by Mike Long

Is anyone here old enough to remember Rich Hall's "Sniglets"? You know, that's where you make up a word for a specific object or event, and then try to put it to use. Someone needs to create a word for movies in which there is a great deal of talent and/or big-name stars involved and the final result is astoundingly bad or mediocre. These films come along more than we'd like to admit and Duplex fits squarely into this category. How about squanmore?

Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore star in Duplex as Alex Rose and Nancy Kendricks, a young married couple who are searching for their dream home in New York City. (The movie never tells us why she kept her maiden name.) A realtor (played with panache by Harvey Fierstein) shows them a very impressive and spacious apartment. The only catch is that it’s a duplex -- a little old lady named Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essel) lives upstairs and can’t be evicted from her rent-controlled apartment. Alex and Nancy meet Mrs. Connelly, decide that she’s harmless and move in.

Alex plans to finish his latest novel, while Nancy goes to work during the day at a major magazine. But, these plans are dashed by Mrs. Connelly, who is constantly asking Alex and Nancy for assistance on various problems in her apartment, to be accompanied to the store, or simply invited them in for a visit. As Mrs. Connelly becomes more annoying, Alex and Nancy begin to lose control of their lives. Knowing that they can’t kick her out and realizing that the old woman is in fine health, Alex and Nancy begin to concoct nefarious schemes to get rid of the Mrs. Connelly.

Duplex is one of those movies that isn’t necessarily a bad movie -- it’s technically very sound and the performances are good -- but there is also nothing overly impressive about the movie and one can’t help but feel that some important ingredient is missing. The film was directed by Danny DeVito, who tackled similar material in his feature film debut, Throw Momma from the Train. In fact that material is so similar, one would wonder why DeVito would want to do this film. Clearly, the thought of bumping off an old woman isn’t original, and it grows old very quickly here. The idea here is that Mrs. Connelly is sweet, but a pain-in-the-ass, so the tension mounts on Alex and Nancy. But, this supposed mounting tension turns into tedium for the audience. Mrs. Connelly asks for something and ruins Alex’s day, Mrs. Connelly asks for something and ruins Nancy’s day, and on and on. The premise of hating an elderly person is tenuous at best and this movie does little to make this plot funny or interesting.

The only bright spot here is Stiller, who has some great reaction shots and several funny lines. But, still, he’s playing the same put-upon character that he plays in every, single movie. One would think that he’d be tired of being that guy by now. Barrymore is OK, but she seems to work so hard at playing the innocent in her film roles (to off-set her public image) that she has trouble mustering the bile necessary for the role. And, to his credit, DeVito does create some memorable shots, reminding us that is a talented director when it comes to visuals. The combination of DeVito, Stiller, and Barrymore is very promising, but the result is a true letdown. (And not just for the audience. The movie reportedly cost around $40 million to make and it brought in less than $10 million at the U.S. box-office.) I"m all for comedies where people get senselessly tortured, but I shouldn't be the one receiving the torture. Duplex supposedly sat on the shelf for a while and the film has been whittled down to a mere 89 minutes...89 unfunny minutes.

Duplex moves into DVD courtesy of Miramax Home Entertainment. This is a 2-disc set, with the widescreen version housed on Disc 1 and the full-frame version on Disc 2. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is quite sharp and clear, showing only a fine amount of grain and no distracting defects from the source material. Duplex isn’t nearly as dark as DeVito’s other films, and the splashes of color here look very good and the transfer gives us realistic-looking flesh-tones. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which is also quite nice. The bulk of the film’s audio comes from the center and front speakers and the dialogue is clear and audible. There are a handful of scenes where surround and LFE channels kick in and they sound very good as well. Overall, this is a good audio/video transfer.

It’s often the case that studios dump unsuccessful films onto DVD with no extras, and Duplex is no exception. The only extras are a 4-minutes behind-the-scenes vignette which offers shot-on-video footage from the set, with Stiller and Barrymore mugging for the camera, and 3 deleted scenes, one of which offers an extended version of the film’s finale.

4 out of 10 Jackasses

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