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DUETS

SYNOPSIS:
Ex-singer turned karaoke hustler Ricky Dean (Huey Lewis) is reunited with his daughter Liv (Gwyneth Paltrow) following the death of her mother. Depressed salesman Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti) walks out on his family and picks up recently paroled prisoner Reggie Kane (Andre Braugher). Taxi driver Billy (Scott Speedman) discovers his wife has been cheating on him and meets Suzi Loomis (Maria Bello) in a bar. United by a common love of karaoke singing the three couples head for Omaha, Nebraska and the promise of a $5000 purse in a karaoke contest.

"As the credits rolled at the conclusion of Duets I was left wondering just what this film was meant to be and to whom it's supposed to appeal. There are isolated moments that work as either comedy or drama but for a film with a musical theme this never finds its own rhythm. The three separate stories which collide at the inevitable contest finale are old and tired. As tired as Huey Lewis looks when his mother in-law (played by an alarming-looking Angie Dickinson) dresses him down for being a bad father. Enter Gwyneth Paltrow, looking like a trailer trash version of Heidi, and the old 'dad and daughter who never knew each other' bonding routine commences. At least Paltrow and Lewis have a relaxed on-screen chemistry. The other two tales are similarly hackneyed Ė an underachieving taxi driver being redeemed by the eventual love of a tramp (and karaoke hopeful) with a heart of gold and the stressed out suburban dad having his life sorted out by a black convict who's naturally full of valuable philosophical pointers. Why is it that the black characters (like Bagger Vance) always have the answers to everyone else's problems but never take home any prizes for themselves?? The trouble here is that the Todd/Reggie story is played on a dark, bitter level that sits uncomfortably with the other stories and we're never sure where the emotional arc of the film is taking us. Some of Todd's tirades pitched against the shopping mall existence he's rejecting are sharp and insightful but they don't belong in this film. Perhaps Duets might have worked better had it been constructed as an old-fashioned omnibus, without the separate stories intercutting until the climax. The result is a disjointed film that simply doesn't hang together as a whole and gives itself away when Paltrow's singing voice improves beyond belief in her big duet with Lewis. There are scattered moments to enjoy but not enough to recommend in a film that forces you to listen to atrocities like 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot', 'Bette Davis Eyes' and, yes, 'Copacabana'."
Richard Kuipers

"Duets is a curiosity among recent Hollywood films: small, character-driven, not very good, but hardly hateful. The idea of a film about karaoke singers has potential (one more modern variation on the Hollywood musical). But while John Byrum's script is a couple of notches more sincere than, say, Coyote Ugly, it still relies on Hollywood convention, with characters giving stilted little speeches about the need to 'reach out.' Each of the three separate plotlines has the neat, optimistic irony of a commercial magazine story from forty years ago - the idea in each case is that 'two unlikely strangers find they're not so different after all.' The characters, actors and situations are whimsical, sometimes touching, but rarely believable. As a pill-popping real estate agent, Paul Gianetti rants with the speedy, polished attack of a comedian on a chat show. Gwyneth Paltrow, as a dimwitted showgirl, works too hard at being gawky - she plays with her hair, hugs herself, does everything but suck her thumb. It's easy to imagine how a director like Robert Altman or Lars von Trier could have made more ruthless use of these eccentrics and taken a much sharper approach to the (often bland) musical sequences, stressing the contrast between the characters' dreams and their damaged lives. But while nothing would be easier than jeering at a subculture based on singing along to backing tapes of middle-of-the-road pop songs, the director, Bruce Paltrow, is never sarcastic: he and Byrum embrace karaoke as a fanciful solution to the problems of America. At one point, we see a chubby guy in a Hawaiian shirt (played by comedian John Pintile) come to the microphone and prepare to launch into 'Copacabana'; in most recent American comedies, the joke would be on him. But as it turns out, he does a terrific, raucous version of the number, and rocks the house. Better films could use generosity like that."
Jake Wilson

"Duets is one of those curious little movies that sneaks a release every so often. On the outside, it looks like a simple musical, but director Bruce Paltrow crafts a story of unexpected complexity and - at times - genuine passion. The film tries hard to make points about the state of American society in general and its obsession with consumerism in particular. I wasnít convinced however that it knew exactly what it was trying to say, or that the karaoke sub-culture was necessarily the best vehicle to say it. Still, its look at the lives of quiet desperation (punctuated by public singing) led by these characters is never less than engaging if not always riveting. The three storylines do come together at the end; but they donít exactly meld to any great degree. By far the most interesting is that involving Todd and Reggie. Their journey to the big karaoke contest in Omaha is the heart of the film, and itís easily the most powerful. Surprisingly, the story featuring Gwyneth Paltrow (the directorís daughter) is the weakest; while the third with Billy and Suzi is enjoyable in parts, but flat in others. Andre Bragher and Paul Giamatti are both fine as Reggie and Todd respectively, while Huey Lewis holds his own as an actor. Gwyneth Paltrowís performance seemed flat, although she similarly holds her own as a singer. Maria Bello is appropriately exuberant as Suzi although Scott Speedman is considerably more restrained as Billy. If youíre looking for a star-is-born story, this is not the film for you. But if you want a slightly offbeat surprise packet, Duets may well be worth checking out."
David Edwards

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 2

See Brad Green's

SOUNDTRACK REVIEW

TRAILER

DUETS (M)
(US)

CAST: Gwyneth Paltrow, Maria Bello, Andre Braugher, Huey Lewis, Scott Speedman

PRODUCERS: John Byrum, Kevin Jones, Bruce Paltrow

DIRECTOR: Bruce Paltrow

SCRIPT: John Byrum

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Paul Sarossy

EDITOR: Gerald B. Greenberg

MUSIC: David Newman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sharon Seymour

RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 8, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista Home Video

VIDEO RELEASE: July 25, 2001







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