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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20.93%
Worth A Look27.91%
Average: 20.93%
Pretty Bad: 20.93%
Total Crap: 9.3%

3 reviews, 25 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Big Laughs Cushion Throw Momma 2's Fall From Flat Jokes"
4 stars

Does the definition of “dark comedy” always require the murder or attempted slaying of another? Can you think of such a film in the genre that doesn’t include such a macabre element to qualify? Right now, I can’t and obviously Danny DeVito can’t either as this is his fourth entry (out of six theatrical directorial efforts) to involve the plotting and attempted slaying by amateur executioners. A stale concept to be sure, but as a companion piece to his debut piece, Throw Momma from the Train, Duplex delivers some big, big laughs to drown out the deadly thud of those that fall flat.

Starting off on the most awkward of movie foots – the cartoon intro – we are presented with the haphazards of the real estate market through the narration of DeVito and the eyes of newlyweds, Alex (Ben Stiller) and Nancy (Drew Barrymore). Their eyes stop when they come upon the spacious duplex in New York that will be perfect for Alex’s writing and convenient if they ever move into the baby stages.

One problem. The elderly Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essel) comes with the place as their sole tenant upstairs. The meet-and-greet is pleasant enough and you can see Nancy’s wheels turning onto how soon before she kicks off naturally. (The math figures her close to 100.) Still, the happy couple moves in and are soon kept up all night by her blaring television and bothered at every waking moment to help her do chores or the standard landlord package.

As a writer, there’s an exquisite association with the annoyances Alex must endure as he fights the deadline for the epic follow-up to his first novel. (Mrs. Connelly also doesn’t think much of a man who stays home all day with his “hobby”.) When the menacingly sweet old lady also interferes with Nancy’s breadwinning, more drastic measures become the only way out short of taking a huge loss on their investment.

The laughs throughout the film are of the see-saw, hee-haw variety. For every priceless moment that Stiller nails through his trademark common sense-prone, unignited fuse, there’s one that involves explosive ovens or simplistic modes of destruction Money Pit-style that produce more groans than guffaws.

Gutbusters do materialize though and usually make up for two silence manufacturers like a turkey after an open in a bowling game (to match the absurd metaphor that Alex comments upon hysterically from a fellow writer.) A face-off of the “clapper” produces an endless bout of laughter that you’d never believe possible from the decades-old punchline and you have to appreciate any old lady that quotes David Mamet (and/or Sean Connery) in the face of danger.

The screenwriters of Duplex, Larry Doyle & John Hamburg, have an impressive resume of comedy that includes The Simpsons, Beavis & Butthead and Meet the Parents. There’s a nice progression to the material that has us foreshadowing obvious catastrophes (hold onto that laptop!) and then, in its few (but well-conceived) moments of inspiration, twists us just enough to allow us into Alex & Nancy’s hatred for the old bat. Kudos to them for coming up with at least one freshly infectious concept on how to bump off the elderly.

DeVito’s direction is mostly on autopilot here. He staves off his usual batch of dioptic shots and over-the-top menace and just lets the actors have their way with the screenplay. To say he’s lost the nerves he hung out there with The War of the Roses after the much-maligned Death to Smoochy may be a bit unfair as the culmination ain’t that far removed from the original Throw Momma. A final capper still had me smiling though even while I was aware how improbable it was. (NOTE: Recent ads for Duplex use this capper to explain the plot. Avoid the commercials at all costs!)

Duplex certainly isn’t going to rank high on anyone’s comedy list. It’s moments of staleness may be too much to be outperformed by its bits of true hilarity. However, after enduring Dickie Roberts, The Fighting Temptations and Anything Else of late, I can’t confess that my starvation for laughs contributed to my sporadic outbursts during Duplex. You still have to work for my ha-has and I have never been letdown by Ben Stiller. Even now as I write this, I can’t help but think of a priceless reaction that Drew Barrymore gives when confronted by the realization of a brass band congregation upstairs. When a single look can make me laugh harder than any three films I can name this year, that has to be worth something.

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originally posted: 09/26/03 15:01:55
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User Comments

7/06/11 art Thumbs Down to this So-Called Comedy! 1 stars
2/17/09 aa Great Movie 5 stars
1/06/06 JM Synth Not Stiller's best , but given that he makes about 1 a day, that was bound to be the case 3 stars
8/19/05 ES cookie cutter comedy 2 stars
7/18/05 Bad Critic Extremely funny, but some what predictable. 4 stars
7/07/05 ALDO WELL WORTH A LOOK 4 stars
1/28/05 Charlie Hilarious!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
12/31/04 Landshark Landlord self-help for dummies; track the destruction w/ the crash test dummies 2 stars
12/26/04 mjoc This was funny. A pleasant surprise! 4 stars
9/27/04 Viktor Navorski Ben is funny!!! 5 stars
8/11/04 howdinski non stop laughs 10/10 u got to see this 5 stars
7/24/04 Sandy Turynowicz ok 3 stars
5/07/04 wylene BORING, I expected more 2 stars
3/27/04 who cares so funny 5 stars
12/20/03 Shelly Howard C'mon y'all. Drew Barrymore's character herein is a VAST improvement over Helen Zass. 4 stars
10/15/03 here Good Movie! 4 stars
10/10/03 josephine hughes funny,very funy 5 stars
10/02/03 lycan DeVito DeBlows 1 stars
10/01/03 Redpajammas a great film 5 stars
9/29/03 Caiphn Difficult to watch at times. A few solid laughs. 3 stars
9/28/03 suZZie hahahahahaha 5 stars
9/28/03 terry great fun....l.... 5 stars
9/27/03 gary hilarious old irish lady 5 stars
9/23/03 The F-Bomb avoid this shit like the plague. barrymore's career is in the shitter!!!! 1 stars
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  26-Sep-2003 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Apr-2011


  17-Jun-2004 (M)

Directed by
  Danny DeVito

Written by
  Larry Doyle

  Ben Stiller
  Drew Barrymore
  Eileen Essell
  Harvey Fierstein
  Swoosie Kurtz
  Maya Rudloph

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