Julia Roberts and Clive Owen bring their considerable star power and charm to writer/director Tony Gilroy’s light-as-a-feather but largely satisfying comic thriller “Duplicity.”
“Duplicity” feels like a lighter reworking of Gilroy’s terrific debut “Michael Clayton” with corporate intrigue replacing legal intrigue. Where “Michael Clayton” created a complex web and gripping drama, “Duplicity” creates a just as intricate web, but plays things for low-key laughs.
Roberts and Owen play former spies turned lovers who set up shop in opposing corporate companies in hopes of playing the companies against each other and in the process steal an idea that they can sell to the highest bidder.
The rival companies are headed up by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, who in a fabulously funny opening scene fight it out on an airport runaway while their handlers look on in shock. Giamatti and Wilkinson are always reliable character actors, and they give fantastic supporting performances here.
“Duplicity” is a throwback to light comic thrillers like “Charade,” or more recently the “Ocean’s” movies, where the film is more about the stars’ chemistry, charisma and banter than the plot itself.
These are films that create elaborate plots with so many twists and switcheroos that the audience just has to go along for the ride and smile at the filmmaker’s audacity. These are films that intentionally play with the audience.
As a screenwriter Gilroy is probably best know for his work on the “Bourne” franchise, but his work here is closer in spirit to his script for 1992’s “The Cutting Edge,” about a hockey player paired with a figure skater. That film had the same sort of clever, combative dialogue-masking attraction that is on display in “Duplicity.”
Gilroy has the comic dialogue down cold, but when he has to switch to the straight romantic scenes he loses his edge and goes cliché. This held true in "The Cutting Edge," and it remains true today.
There’s a scene where Owen and Roberts proclaim their love for each other that goes on for far too long with dialogue that didn’t need to be spoken. Gilroy should’ve trusted that the audience got that they were in love.
Roberts and Owen, who worked together previously in “Closer,” have a palpable chemistry together and play Gilroy’s dialogue just right. While their scenes together in “Closer” were comprised of acidic barbed banter meant to devastate, here the repartee is just as sharp and quick, but is now playful and affectionate.
Owen has been in a lot of heavy thrillers and gritty action pictures recently, and it is nice to see him dial down the intensity and play up the charm. He reveals a fine comedic touch and slides nicely into a Cary Grant mode.
Roberts is simply required to be Roberts, and she still does it well. It is also nice to see that she is allowing herself to age gracefully. It doesn’t appear that, as with so many of her colleagues, she has started to nip, tuck and pull.
“Duplicity” is not a demanding or challenging film, but it is fun. And with locations such as Italy and the Bahamas as the backdrop for several scenes, it is pretty to look at. It is a soufflé — light, fluffy and delicious, but not very substantial. It goes down easy and offers quick pleasure.