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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.32%
Worth A Look: 26.42%
Pretty Bad: 18.87%
Total Crap: 11.32%

5 reviews, 23 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Giamatti and Karaoke Numbers Make It Worthwhile"
4 stars

Sometimes a song is just a song. Only the simplest of straightforward meaning to be found in the lyrics wrapped in a beat or melody that you can clap or sing along to with the windows rolled down. Some songs try hard to put some depth within, but it keeps coming back to the chorus, repeating itself over and over until you can no longer remember what the song is about, but you can’t get the chorus out of your head. Duets is a film like that, one that seems to have a point and makes many attempts to get it to come across, but you keep coming back to the chorus of it, which are the performances and the singing, which alone make it worthwhile.

The plot of Duets is pretty straightforward. It’s sort of a Robert Altman road trip where six characters are about to all converge in Omaha, Nebraska for a Karaoke Contest worth $5,000. We first meet Karaoke hustler, Ricky Dean (the great Huey Lewis) making a living deceiving at the bars and on the stage. When an old flame of his passes away, he meets the daughter he never knew, Liv (Gwyneth Paltrow). Then there’s Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti), virtually ignored by his family; he‘s become so jaded with his traveling salesman lifestyle that he doesn’t even realize what city he’s staying in. Billy (Scott Speedman) drives and owns “half a cab”. After getting some harsh life lessons from his shoplifting (former) third-grade teacher (a very funny Marian Seldes), he discovers that his partner’s been taking more than just half his cab with his girlfriend. Suzi Loomis is a waitress from West Virginia doing whatever (and whomever) she needs to get to the Karaoke contest. And finally there’s Reggie Kane, a ex-con who once made “an error in judgment” and now only knows how to do two things: rob and sing.

Naturally these six individuals are going to meet eventually somehow and when they do they breakdown into three duets. Ricky and Liv get to know each other against his wishes, preferring to do a “solo act.” Todd crosses paths with Reggie, intersecting at a time in their lives when each is headed toward the life’s path of the other. And Suzi promises to give Billy a real good time for a cab ride to Omaha. Of the three duets, this one is the weakest. Getting less time than the other two to develop anymore than a couple dimensions, Billy and Suzi fight most of the way as he can’t understand why she would want to degrade herself sexually while Suzi defends it as a means to her dreams. Ricky and Liv are a bit better; trying to recoup lost time and discovering each share the gift of song. But the real meat comes from the duet of Todd and Reggie. Especially Todd because his character is the richest, goes through the most significant changes and gets the most screen time. This is Paul Giamatti’s movie. It’s a wonderful performance and it should be looked at in the supporting category come Oscar time.

Defining Duets is a tricky task. The makings of a truly special film can be found in between the cracks, but never seem to quite come together in the way the filmmakers must have hoped. Like any song that uses words like poetry, you can define it several different ways. Sure, Duets is a road comedy about ordinary people trying to fulfill their dreams. Five grand may not seem like much these days when you can spend 40 days on an island and act like a bunch of zeros looking for more zeros in their cash, but these characters aren’t looking for riches at the end of the rainbow. They are looking to feel something. Whether it’s Giamatti looking for respect and maybe a little excitement in a dull life against what commercialism has turned the country into or Paltrow wanting to connect with her father, the film is also as much about perception as it is pursuing dreams and connection. Lewis’ hustler is a perfect introduction for us into Karaoke as he amusingly demeans the practice and then shocks the crowd with how good he really is. Braugher’s con is also like that to the audience watching the film. We know his penchant for wrongdoing, yet are mesmerized as he commands an angelic singing voice whenever given the chance. His character and the late-breaking storyline that evolves with him remains the biggest mystery and really has no place in a story like this.

What really holds all these strands together are the performances and the singing. Other than Andre Braugher (whose voice is combined with vocalist Arnold McCuller, who gets sole credit), all the actors use their own vocal chords to bust out their tunes and all are impressive. Everyone knows ole’ Huey can sing and Gwyneth has received a lot of press for interest in Karaoke and she is a true natural. Together, their rendition of Smokey Robinson’s Cruising is a wonderful capping to their relationship and a great cover to boot. But how great is Braugher/McCuller and Giamatti’s take on Try a Little Tenderness. It’s a true showstopper and like every Karaoke moment, it makes you await eagerly for the next one.

It’s appropriate that Duets opens the same weekend as Almost Famous, both of them movies that show how songs can unite people and inspire them at the same time. Duets could have been the Saturday Night Fever of the new millennium. It falls short because it has so much it wants to say that it forgets to say it. Is it about pursuing your dreams, no matter how trivial? A statement about commercialism destroying the music industry and getting back to the roots of what song is all about? Perhaps it’s the need to belong with someone, as a duet and not just a solo act? All sorts of interpretations are likely to be put forward about Duets, trying to figure out what it’s really about. Some may enjoy it on the same grounds that I did. Some will likely just dismiss it and that’s fine. After all, most of America still thinks that Born in the U.S.A. is a patriotic song. Duets may fall into the category of bubblegum pop, but thanks to the performances and the singing, I wouldn’t mind having another piece.

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originally posted: 09/15/00 07:50:35
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User Comments

10/05/15 Jeff WIlder Gaimmatti and Braugher are good. But one-dimensional characters and story still-born. 2 stars
6/20/05 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
10/25/04 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
1/14/03 Allen Huey is still cool! 3 stars
1/26/02 Helen The only thing that is worth to see is Scott Speedman, because his very very hot 2 stars
11/29/01 puckfreak Unexpectedly good, Paul Giamatti is hiarious. 4 stars
11/14/01 Cristina Oliveira Absolutely marvelous 5 stars
11/13/01 Bada Bing Crosby A minute or two were fun. Movie is mostly too preachy, predictable 3 stars
11/12/01 Jon C. Ericson Baby let's cruise, away from this movie !!!!! 3 stars
9/11/01 Jake What an annoying piece of drivel. 1 stars
8/07/01 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
2/12/01 Richard Wright Gwyneth can sing,and even act(a bit)but her father's pet project was not worth the effort. 2 stars
9/30/00 Zeitgeist worst movie i have ever seen, and i've seen many. seriously. this is terrible. stay away 1 stars
9/23/00 mara z. Absolutely horrible.Worst I've ever seen.Terrible acting.Wasted ~2hrs of my life. 1 stars
9/19/00 Solodo Wow. Biggest surprise of the year. It's fantastic, moving, and Andre & Paul are incredible 5 stars
9/19/00 Poetcdh Better than sitting at home reading a book 3 stars
9/18/00 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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