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Duets

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Duets

Starring: Huey Lewis, Paul Giamatti
Director: Bruce Paltrow
Rated: R
RunTime: 92 Minutes
Release Date: September 2000
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance


*Also starring: Andre Braugher, Scott Speedman, Maria Bello, Marian Seldes, Kiersten Warren, Angie Phillips, Angie Dickinson



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Six people, each unhappy in his or her own way, get together in fairly believable ways, each showing the other that life really is worth living if only you can make a few changes. Sound familiar? The theme sure is, but this is perhaps the first time a major film uses the motif of karaoke as the catalytic agent. What gives the movie most of its charm is not the shopworn, sentimental story but the surprisingly good singing by one of Hollywood's greats, Gwyneth Paltrow, who took away the prizes for her gender-bender role in "Shakespeare in Love" and now proves that she could credibly appear on the Broadway stage if Stephen Sondheim could write a musical for her.

Bruce Paltrow, noted for his TV series "St. Elsewhere" and a single feature movie "A Little Sex," is at the helm, determined to let his performers have as good a time as are the typically once-shy, now-turned-on-by-karaoke folks once put into the limelight to enjoy a high which some insist is as effective as a snort of coke. Using John Byrum's sugary script, he opens his story on a professional singer, Ricky Dean (Huey Lewis), who behind thick-framed glasses could probably fool anyone into thinking he's a nerdish school teacher who knows nothing about karaoke. His shtick is to come up to those who are performing in the mid-west bars where singing to canned music is de rigueur, shake his head in puzzlement over this "karate-oakley," and wonder why people would want to waste time at such a foolish pastime. Putting down a few hundred dollars as a bet with a hayseed who thinks he can eat the man for lunch, he knocks 'em dead and takes off with his newfound cash. Trouble is the man is unhappy, his former girl friend having died. When he shows up for the funeral he meets his daughter for the first time, she hooks on to the reluctant man, and from then on they're a singing team. And boy can Liv (Gwyneth Paltrow) make her old man look even better, harmonizing with her silky vocal chords about as well as the best in the group, a hustler of another sort named Suzi (Maria Bello), who teams up with underachieving cab driver Billy (Scott Speedman) in an all- too-sketchy portrayal, who drives her from the midwest to California to pursue a singing career.

Gwyneth Paltrow's startling vocal qualities aside, the stealer this time around is Paul Giamatti in the role of a perpetually traveling businessman, Todd, terribly unhappy not only because he is away from his family so often accumulating frequent flyer miles but because he is facing a moral dilemma. Berating himself for despoiling the environment--at one point he kicks himself verbally for destroying the breeding ground of turtles in order to develop a theme-park waterslide for children--Todd hooks up with escaped convict Reggie (Andre Braugher), who tells one man whom he robs that he has no skills, but is put on the right track by Todd who brings out the singer in him at the karaoke competitions.

The highlight of John Byrum's script is a monologue that could be a treasure if used by actors in auditions, in which Todd lashes out against the strip-malling of America, raising the red flag of revolution against the McDonalds, Wendys and Pizza Huts that have turned this country from a pristine paradise into a commercial eyesore. Acting out a major midlife crisis, Todd dons a single earring, gives up his razor blade for days at a time, and roams the midwest with his new buddy in search of a life free from the physical and emotional poisons of American corporations.

When Giamatti takes off in the role of his lifetime, he will have the audience eating out of his hand. But when oddball humor is at the forefront, director Paltrow could conceivably lose some of the fans of the very types of movies against which Todd could conceivably rage. The karaoke does not in any way dominate the picture and, in fact, the final competition does not end in the style of the typical football movie with the audience two steps ahead of the judges. Rather the contest is cut short in favor of heartstring tugs. While the father-daughter bonding is hackneyed and the underachiever-hustler scenario is underdeveloped, Paltrow does succeed enough by highlighting Giamatti in his first scene-stealing role and featuring the heretofore unknown quality of Gwyneth Paltrow's sound.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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