It's hard to go wrong with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in a movie together. The two starred in Closer as a couple in a toxic marriage. This time around they play two corporate spies who are intoxicated with each other. The sexy part comes from the way they look (Owen is tan, Roberts is back with that big ol' movie star smile) and the fact that the characters' day jobs make it hard for them to trust each other, despite the longing between them.
I was expecting Duplicity to be the kind of movie at which I could kick back and enjoy the chemistry between the two stars. You know, the kind of movie in which double-crossing is just a spy's way of flirting, and covert operation lingo is laced with innuendo. I'm sad to report that's not the movie I viewed at all. I'll tell you why if you read more.
I've been intrigued by the idea of Tony Gilroy (the man responsible for the 2007 drama Michael Clayton and writer of the suspenseful Bourne movies) delivering a fun and sexy spy romp starring two of the world's most gorgeous people. I knew to expect a grown-up movie that respects my intelligence, though I was skeptical about how much lightheartedness Gilroy could bring to the screen.
Turns out my skepticism was valid, as I found that the romantic and comedic elements take a backseat to a complex storyline about the corporate spy organizations within pharmaceutical companies. It's all made even more tiresome by a complicated timeline (there are a lot of flashbacks). Instead of asking you to invest in the sexy leads, Gilroy asks the audience to just hang in there through every twist and turn of nonsense in return for a big reveal that will piece it all together for us in the end. Well, by the time I saw the big reveal, I was just glad the movie was over rather than blown away by the cleverness.
On the plus side, the movie looks gorgeous and is delightfully sophisticated. The opening slow-motion sequence on a tarmac is funny and stylized in a way that reminded me of the Oceans 11 movies. Julia and Clive are delightful in Rome and there's a particular moment in which he kisses her neck that satisfied the kind of airy seductiveness I was looking for. There's also a great little sequence with the hilarious Carrie Preston (of True Blood) that is truly alive with comedic timing and wit. But unfortunately, the fun stuff is weighed down by the overly serious corporate saga unfolding. I think the drama is supposed to give us some food for thought on top of the fun, but it's actually just a drag, and it's utterly useless as a parable.
Then there's the matter of Julia Roberts. It's amazing to see this famous siren of the screen back in action. She's all curves with decolletage proudly on display. She's glamorously dressed in European weekend-wear and expensive-looking heels and trench coats. She's middle-aged and it's such a blessing to see a real woman sexily strut her stuff up there on the big screen. But Roberts' performance is distractingly uneven. One moment her eyes are alive with intelligence and wit and the next it looks as though no one is home. When she laughs it's electric, but then other times she just looks drained of energy. It's a strange "comeback" to be sure, but hey, maybe it's just a warm up.
Photos courtesy of Universal Pictures