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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.32%
Worth A Look: 26.42%
Just Average32.08%
Pretty Crappy: 18.87%
Sucks: 11.32%

5 reviews, 23 user ratings

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by Andrew Howe

"Nowhere near as awful as you may expect"
3 stars

The greatest barrier to Duets’ success will be reviews which open as follows: “Directed by Bruce Paltrow (Gwyneth’s old man), Duets charts the trials and tribulations of a disparate group of barroom warblers as they wind their way towards Omaha to compete in a karaoke championship.”

I don’t know about you, but it’s unlikely that I would reach the second paragraph of that review, especially if I’d already noticed the names “Huey Lewis” and “Miss G. Paltrow” in the cast list. Which would be a shame, because while Duets is never going to be mistaken for A-list entertainment, it delivers considerably more than the premise promises.

To label Duets “Gwyneth’s latest film” is something of a misnomer, since the available screen time is evenly divided amongst three pairs of characters. There’s a recently cuckolded cab driver (Scott Speedman) and a sultry, morally ambiguous vamp who uses sexual favours as legal tender (Maria Bello); a disillusioned escapee from the corporate rat race (Paul Giamatti) and a criminal whose assets include a large gun and a fine set of pipes (Andre Braugher); and a hustler (at karaoke, not pool) who discovers that, no matter how far you travel, you never stop paying for your past (Huey Lewis, with Gwyn as the young lady who teaches him one of life’s hard lessons).

Any film which features such a large number of protagonists is going to suffer from an inability to afford each plot strand the appropriate attention (especially when you have to take regular breaks to allow the characters to belt out a tune), so it’s no surprise that none of the roles or relationships are particularly well-drawn. However, the scriptwriter (John Byrum) overcomes this obstacle by ensuring that every character represents an easily-identifiable archetype (the harried family man who has sold his soul for mammon, the hard-as-nails vixen whose in-your-face attitude repels any attempt to gain access to her innermost feelings, and many others), which means that the viewer can readily fill in the gaps. It’s not an optimum situation, but it serves to create a group of likeable, accessible individuals within the constraints of time and talent.

The quality of the acting is, by and large, a cut above average, with special mention going to Giamatti and Braugher, who effortlessly engage the viewer’s full attention whenever they appear on the screen. It is this storyline which provides the film with an unexpected depth, even if its dark undertones sit a little uncomfortably with the rest of the script. It’s basically a retread of Thelma and Louise (i.e. two reasonably likeable individuals caught in a downward spiral as their lives swing out of control), and the scriptwriter deserves praise for seeing things through to their inevitable conclusion. This plot thread single-handedly raises the film above the pedestrian, and ensures that the viewer will not walk away entirely unmoved.

The Speedman/Bello thread is the least engaging, since we never gain any real insight into Bello‘s character, while Speedman simply comes across as an amiable loser. They do, however, make an interesting couple (in an “idealistic romantic vs world-weary cynic” kind of way), and Bello gets to deliver a couple of cracking one-liners, so it’s a pity that the script didn’t allow them a little more room to move.

Which brings us to Lewis and Paltrow, the nominal stars of the piece. Lewis turned in an acceptable performance in Short Cuts, but then his role in that film was little more than a cameo. Here he is merely competent – he doesn’t disgrace himself, but he lacks the screen presence to carry off a central role (he can sing, however, which makes the rather ridiculous notion of a karaoke hustler a little easier to swallow). Paltrow, on the other hand, makes me forget how much I dislike her by playing against type, and proves that portraying a wide-eyed ingenue is well within her capabilities. Trading her usual preening for regular bouts of lip trembling and endearing stupidity, her girlish performance will win over all but the hardest of souls.

Unfortunately, the fact that the Omaha competition is only worth $5,000 makes the film a low-stakes affair, and moreover none of the characters are depending on the contest to save them from a fate worse than death – nobody needs the money for a life-saving operation, and you get the impression that falling short of glory will not result in a crippling loss of self-esteem. The absence of a strong narrative spine ensures that the film never builds up the required momentum, and as a result viewer interest in the outcome is middling at best.

To overcome this short-circuit the script needs to deliver a barrow-load of laughs and/or top-notch character development. The film is intermittently amusing, but it won’t have you rolling in the aisles, and we’ve already determined that, while the characters are not entirely unworthy of our attention, it’s not exactly Magnolia. To make matters worse, two of the central relationships are left hanging at the conclusion of the film, with little evidence that the characters have experienced personal growth as a result of their experiences. If the scriptwriter had seen fit to use the Giamatti/Braugher sequence as a model for the remaining storylines he might have created something truly impressive, but as it is we are left with a number of memorable scenes backed by the celluloid equivalent of the Talking Heads song Road to Nowhere.

For a film which supposedly revolves around singing, there’s precious little which will rock your world. This is understandable, since it’s difficult to enliven a scene which features nothing more than one or two performers crooning along to a backing tape (especially when you have to do it on at least seven separate occasions). It’s a matter of personal preference, of course, but most of the songs are also a trifle bland, which is actually a reasonable representation of real-life karaoke. There is, however, a wonderful duet by Giamatti and Braugher which is a bona fide showstopper, and almost makes up for the enervating sequences which pepper the rest of the film.

Given its premise, Duets was never going to be a contender for film of the year. There was, however, a very good chance that it would be unremittingly dire, so I am genuinely surprised to report that it’s a reasonably pleasant way to pass the time. It is by no means a great film, but there’s enough depth, overlaid with some enjoyable performances and gentle humour, to ensure that everyone will find something of interest within.

Or, to put it another way: Duets is like watching someone deliver a halfway-decent version of one of your favourite songs – it won’t leave you entirely satisfied, but there are moments when you may just catch yourself singing along.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=4433&reviewer=193
originally posted: 12/04/00 11:08:48
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User Comments

10/04/15 Jeff WIlder Gaimmatti and Braugher are good. But one-dimensional characters and story still-born. 2 stars
6/19/05 Emmelin Fall in love with Gwyneth in this fantastic film 5 stars
4/19/05 Bonnie James It is a great movie. Who knew there was a karaoke sub-culture... 4 stars
10/24/04 Nick Oh, come on. Give this movie some credit. It's redeeming value is its music, esp. Freebird. 3 stars
7/29/03 cohese I hate Gwyneth Paltrow, and yes this film was crappy. 2 stars
5/23/03 zeitgeist Surely this has to be one of the Seven Seals of the Apocalypse 1 stars
1/13/03 Allen Huey is still cool! 3 stars
1/25/02 Helen The only thing that is worth to see is Scott Speedman, because his very very hot 2 stars
11/28/01 puckfreak Unexpectedly good, Paul Giamatti is hiarious. 4 stars
11/13/01 Cristina Oliveira Absolutely marvelous 5 stars
11/12/01 Bada Bing Crosby A minute or two were fun. Movie is mostly too preachy, predictable 3 stars
11/11/01 Jon C. Ericson Baby let's cruise, away from this movie !!!!! 3 stars
9/10/01 Jake What an annoying piece of drivel. 1 stars
8/06/01 Maeve-Catherine A feel good film, with amazing songs and amazing singers! 5 stars
4/27/01 Courtnie *I love this movie!* Its totally the best!~* It rocked! 5 stars
2/17/01 me uh well i haven't seen it yet but today i went and saw billy elliot? that was a good movie 5 stars
2/11/01 Richard Wright Gwyneth can sing,and even act(a bit)but her father's pet project was not worth the effort. 2 stars
9/29/00 Zeitgeist worst movie i have ever seen, and i've seen many. seriously. this is terrible. stay away 1 stars
9/22/00 mara z. Absolutely horrible.Worst I've ever seen.Terrible acting.Wasted ~2hrs of my life. 1 stars
9/18/00 Solodo Wow. Biggest surprise of the year. It's fantastic, moving, and Andre & Paul are incredible 5 stars
9/18/00 Poetcdh Better than sitting at home reading a book 3 stars
9/17/00 Paul Directed by Bruce Paltrow - No doubt daddy helped his no talent hack daughter. ACTINGSUCKS 1 stars
9/10/00 Boy In The Designer Bubble I'd rather take a hot pocker up the ass, than watch a Paltrow film! 1 stars
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  15-Sep-2000 (R)


  08-Feb-2001 (M)

Directed by
  Bruce Paltrow

Written by
  John Byrum

  Gwyneth Paltrow
  Paul Giamatti
  André Braugher
  Maria Bello
  Lochlyn Munro
  Huey Lewis

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