Duplicity

Oh, I really wanted to love this movie. Enticing previews. Radiant Julia Roberts. Sexy Clive Owen. Class A secondary players. Written and directed by Tony Gilroy of Michael Clayton fame, who also wrote the scripts for the Bourne films, the quintessential espionage adventure series.

Alas, all the ingredients that should have made this film a hands-down winner somehow didn’t gel. The script was literate and intelligent, but it didn’t pop and it went all over the place so much that sometimes I was wondering not only where we were but when we were. Roberts, gorgeous as ever at age 41, was a delight to watch but the script didn’t give her much incentive to sparkle. She was usually dressed in boring corporate getups. Wardrobe animal that I am, I kept longing to see her in some over the top glam statements. Or at least some fabulous earrings. Clive Owen was his usual manly self (age 47) but he seemed curiously low on his charm-oozing skills. He scowls better than any guy on screen, but heck, this was supposed to be a romantic comedy–couldn’t he evince at least a few seconds of what I’m sure would be a “come hither” grin to knock my socks off. Nope. Nada.

The story had terrific potential. Enticing CIA agent Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts, Charlie Wilson’s War) hooks up with hunky MI-6 agent Roy Koval (Clive Owen, The International) at a party six years ago at the U.S. embassy in Dubai.

They flirt, she gives him the brush off, he persists. A little later they’re in his hotel room naked and he’s lying face up on the bed with a big grin on his face–drugged. She reaches under the mattress, pulls out an envelope holding his high-level secrets and scurries out.

Shortly after, two corporate giants in the personal beauty products field duke it out in stunning slow motion on the tarmac at the airport. Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson, RocknRolla) and Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti, Shoot ‘Em Up) hate one another so much they can’t stand the sight of one another. No grownup martial arts or boxing stances for these guys. They fight like spoiled brats, pushing and shoving as if they were on a kindergarten playground. They are childish egomaniacs and that means no matter what happens to anyone else, they intend to be King of the Mountain.

Present day. Roy is now a on the hush-hush corporate espionage team for Richard Garsik’s company. He spots Julia sauntering down the street, accosts her, and demands an explanation why she disappeared and ruined his government career. She pretends she doesn’t know who he is. When they discover that they are both working on the same corporate spying job, they go apoplectic. So it seems. That’s the point, everything in this movie is “so it seems,” meaning nothing is as it seems.

Round and round we go. Back in time, forward in time, one distant location to another. One nefarious plot after another. Claire and Roy fall madly in love and decide to team up in a major corporate double cross that would make them a fortune by stealing the beauty product secret of the century. But being duplicitous by years of employment in which their stocks in trade are lies and betrayal (or they wonder, are they duplicitous by nature and thus found the perfect jobs?), it takes a lot of bumps in the road for them to trust one another like normal lovers. Duplicity is an ultra-sophisticated story, so they never do quite trust one another.

Great idea. I love scoundrels who plan meticulously to walk away with all the loot. Alas, because Duplicity is a complex script as well, things don’t happen the way Claire and Roy intend. You root for the thieving couple, but they never quite sizzle up the screen enough for you to root heartfully.

Too much complicated corporate espionage, I fear, and not enough bedroom banter. Or more basically, too much of a good thing too soon. Anticipation is at the heart of romantic comedies. But Claire and Roy fell into bed in the first scene, thus taking away the delicious vicarious fun of watching their come-go hi-jinks. If they had fallen in love – at long last – at the end of the movie – in the old-fashioned way – every one would have been happier.

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