Duplex (2003) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, crude humor, language and some violence
Running Time: 88 min.
Cast: Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore, Eileen Essel, Harvey Fierstein, Justin Theroux, James Remar, Robert Wisdom, Swoosie Kurtz
Director: Danny DeVito
Screenplay: Larry Doyle
Yes, it's Danny DeVito doing what he does best: dark comedies. This time out, the results are awful, and any semblance to the form DeVito showed in his hit, The War of the Roses, is nowhere to be found in this travesty of idiotic ideas and unfunny antics. When you cut right down to it, there is very little difference in execution between Duplex and DeVito's first big screen foray into black comedies, Throw Momma from the Train. However, where Momma had some inspiration behind the idea for a movie, and a truly heinous villainess, Duplex crosses the boundary of good taste by becoming a sick and cruel exercise in human depravity. Let's face it -- watching two people try to kill an elderly woman because her television is too loud is just not funny.
Stiller (Meet the Parents, Zoolander) and Barrymore (Charlie's Angels, 50 First Dates) play Alex and Nancy, a couple trying to find their own place in New York at a reasonable price. They land a large duplex in the middle of Brooklyn and they love every inch of it -- that is until they can't come to terms with their elderly upstairs neighbor and her crazy idiosyncrasies. Slowly the old woman's behavior begins to drive Alex and Nancy beyond the brink of sanity, and their only recourse seems to get her out of the picture at any cost.
Duplex starts off amiably, with some light humorous touches that makes the somewhat predictable comedy feel easygoing enough to not mind. Had DeVito kept with a more subdued approach, perhaps Duplex might have been able to coast to the end with enough entertainment value to keep the attention of most. Alas, DeVito rarely plays anything with a subtle hand, choosing to pull out all stops in the crude physical comedy to evoke laughs. With each successive scene, the gags become cruder and much more violent, until it gets to the point where the humor not only stops, but unease and anger begins to bubble up to the surface.
It ultimately does come to a merciful end, but in one last insult to the audience, Doyle's script injects a twist that makes no earthly sense whatsoever. it's a head-scratching development that will perplex you for only a minute, as you'll soon realize that a film this bad doesn't really merit close analysis, and having to think about it one second more is just too painful to bear.
©2003 Vince Leo