out of 4
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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4
Technology stocks are in the toilet, gold is not moving too
fast, banks are paying one percent, and even the bond funds
are expressing their anger at the economy that President Bush
is helping to destroy. What to do? Real estate! Real estate is
always a good investment, isn't it, especially if your property is
not in the Arizona desert but in the better neighborhoods of New
York City. What could be bad? Consider "Duplex" a fair
warning. Not only can property values actually go down, even in
the tonier nabes of Brooklyn such as Cobble Hill and Park
Slope, but having a tenant (a great idea since whoever lives in
your building is paying your mortgage) can be one major hassle.
Danny DeVito's "Duplex," from a sharp, even brilliant screenplay
by Larry Doyle, is a dark, ironic comedy that perhaps
suburbanites cannot fully appreciate. If you're urban and can dig
the verbal dynamics of a Woody Allen script and the pratfalls
and scatology of the Farrelly Brothers, "Duplex" is your obvious
choice, perhaps the best light comedy this year.
The plot centers on a nice, young couple, nice, that is, if you
cut them some slack for their attempts to murder an 86-year-old
lady who appears to mean well when she blasts "Hawaii Five-O"
from her TV, calls in the landlord for a wealth of plumbing
repairs, and takes advantage of their good-guys attitudes to
send them on a slew of errands. What was it that finally turned
Alex Rose (Ben Stiller) and his adorable wife Nancy Kendricks
(Drew Barrymore), into no-more-nice-guy attitudes? Could they
have snapped when Alex, always at home because he's a
novelist, went on a shopping expedition with Mrs. Connelly (the
spunky, 86-year-old Eileen Essel) only to find Mrs. Connelly
counting the berries, lining up the tomatoes, and later, in a
pharmacy, counting out the pills from her latest prescription? Or
when Alex and Nancy, trying to make a baby, is spied upon by
the old lady who is watching from their window? Perhaps when
Mrs. Connelly held Nancy on the phone in her office, resulting in
her botching a deadline and getting in real bad with her boss?
Whatever the case, Danny DeVito has a film with the
signature of his first directorial effect, "Throw Momma from the
Train," about a man played DeVito who is eager to get rid of her
harridan of a mother. At times, you're bound to think of Joseph
Kesselring's classic stage comedy, "Arsenic and Old Lace,"
about a group of charming ladies who murder their lonely
tenants because they feel sorry for them and want to put them
out of their misery. Nobody in DeVito's play is as insane as the
brother of those women who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, but
by the time Mrs. Connelly gets through with them, they're pretty
much climbing the walls, willing even to hire a hit man to do
away with their rent-contolled tenant who cannot otherwise be
A look at the glorious apartment shared by the unhappy
couple and the neighborhood they live in, filmed by Asastas
Michos), should forever end anyone's belief that Brooklyn is
somehow an out-of-it borough without the beauty of a single
tree. "Duplex" is snapply, stylish, and bears an ironic ending
that even Neil La Bute would applaud.
Copyright © 2003 Harvey Karten
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