Pay attention to the twists of 'Duplicity'

'Duplicity' is a romantic comedy disguised as a semi-thriller, layered with clandestine psy-ops, counterintelligence and disinformation that, in the end, surprises.

What quickly becomes evident, however, is that the Byzantine scheming and undercover operations have nothing to do with two nations stealthily attempting to glean information about one another; rather, the battle is between two multinational corporations whose CEOs (Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson) are waging a form of warfare wherein the stakes are the latest research for facial cream, pizza crust and leak-proof diapers. At this point, place tongue firmly in cheek.

Clive Owen and Julia Roberts portray Ray Skoval and Claire Stenwick, two retired government agents, who have hired on with the multinationals in their counterintelligence departments. Or so we think initially, until writer/director Tony Gilbert inserts into the narrative a series of flashbacks revealing that Skoval and Stenwick are colluding against both companies while representing only themselves. They're playing the players and perhaps each other.

Structurally, Gilbert gambled with "Duplicity." He took what could have been a linear story and shuffled it like a deck of cards, asking the audience to pay very close attention or risk getting lost in events as the film moves from back story to real time with little or no warning.

No doubt, there will be those in the audience who lose one or more of the many threads of the story. As well, because there are two clandestine crews, the audience must constantly sort out the players and what side they're on.

Given that "Duplicity" is a romantic comedy, the fulcrum of the film is the relationship between Roberts and Owen, two very attractive people. Unexpectedly, the two lack chemistry when together, failing to convey any on-screen heat, which is absolutely essential if this film is going to work as intended. Witty repartee will not carry the moment, even though the pair has been compared to Hepburn and Grant.

As an aside, "Duplicity" is not simply a vehicle wherein Roberts resurrects her signature role as the irresistible hooker in "Pretty Woman". But her role in "Duplicity" does not ask her to stretch too much further, as she did in her Oscar-winning role in "Erin Brockovich." But then this is a lighthearted comedy, something Roberts can do well and with little effort. She need only be herself and not someone else. Ditto for Owen.


The first act of "Knowing" is tantalizing, steeped in chaos theory (though phenomena may seem deterministic, all is, nevertheless, random), the plot set in motion by the discovery of a sheet of paper, written by a young girl, covered in what appears to be strings of arbitrary numbers.

John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) — astrophysicist, professor at MIT — finds the paper in his son's backpack. Intrigued, he begins to examine the numbers more closely and finds a series of dates that correspond to natural and man-made disasters, most having already occurred and others about to occur.

And so the story unwinds, seeming full of promise. But soon the Stephen King syndrome comes into play, meaning the screenwriter takes the story into a cul-de-sac from which there is no credible exit. Like King's countless scenarios, the only explanation for what occurs in "Knowing" seems, well, more than a stretch and, truth be told, disappointing. Or, put another way, too convenient.

It's fair to ask for more specificity regarding the above comments; however, to give more details about the feeble explanation offered up would rob the film-goer of the opportunity to at least see the film fresh and relatively unprejudiced.

Of course, in films that skirt the edge of the strange or the improbable, that defy all natural laws, whatever final outcome is proffered has to be hugely imaginative and downright goose-bump creepy and ultimately believable. "Knowing" fails on all counts.

Imagine receiving a paper of prophecies, expressed in numbers, written some 50 years ago by an elementary school girl. Now that premise alone could be the scaffolding for exploring the realm of high human intelligence while expanding on the interesting premise that our place in our galaxy (just the right distance from the sun to sustain life), and in the universe, is not merely random. Therein is at least one interesting story, and one not reliant on a convenient deus ex machina.

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