A movie that is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is, Duplicity attempts to dazzle with a high dose of faux glitz but falls apart when the most cursory of plot elements fail to hold together.
Ray Koval (Clive Owen) and Claire Stenwich (Julia Roberts) are spies, formerly rivals in government service but now working for corporations who have a lot of trade secrets to hide or steal. Ray and Claire have a fling, and may be falling for each other or just using each other as they decide to covertly team-up to profit from a trade war between two rival companies, Equikrom and Burkett & Randle.
The CEO of Burkett & Randle (Tom Wilkinson) is about to unveil to great new product that will change the industry; his rival the CEO of Equikrom (Paul Giamatti) is desperate to get his hands on this breakthrough. Ray and Claire position themselves to control the trade secret ahead of anyone else, in an attempt to sell it for a huge profit.
Despite the interesting premise, too many basic building blocks in Duplicity are cracked beyond salvation. The attraction and chemistry between the main characters Ray and Claire? The only thing we know they have in common is a deep, mutual and prolonged distrust of each other. Not a good basis for the movie to establish and maintain any romantic angle.
The great corporate trade secret everyone is chasing? It's a one page - yes, hard copy - hand-drawn chemical diagram that looks like it was torn from a grade six textbook. Apparently, the digital revolution has not penetrated too far in some of America's most advanced corporations.
And the corporate spies who have the ability and technology to insert agents deep undercover? They apparently are only capable of copying and transmitting documents using photocopy machines operating at one page per minute. Digital cameras and e-mail, anyone?
For a film trying to be romantic thriller set in the high tech world of corporate espionage, such rudimentary gaps in flow and logic are unforgivably distracting.
We are left with the appeal of the two stars, and neither is convincing. Julia Roberts works hard to try and persuade us that she is a shrewd and ruthless operator, but she can't hide a persona that seems to just want to travel to exotic places and wear the priciest clothes. As her foil, Clive Owen does not appear to be trying too hard to convince us of anything. He generally sleep walks through the movie relying solely on a charisma that unfortunately for him decided to sit this one out.
Director Tony Gilroy tries to entertain the easily impressed with various locales including Dubai, Italy, Cleveland, Florida, New York City and Switzerland, and tells the tale of the relationship between Ray and Claire through flashbacks. But the film lacks any artistic touches or true directorial flare that would have provided an edge.
Pretending to be ready to deliver clever action when you're serving mainly limp entertainment? Duplicity indeed.
All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.