Once a risky gimmick (re: Slaughterhouse Five, The Man Who Fell to Earth), time tripping has evolved into an unfortunate cliché among filmmakers wary of their own material. It must be quite daunting, imagining your scenario could easily fall to boredom in linear terms, causing you to map out elaborate schemes to bounce viewers not only from now to then, but also to alternating periods within that ‘then.’ Unless there’s a hefty payoff at the end of the jumbled journey, some of us may want our money back.
Duplicity (2009) was written and directed by Tony Gilroy, his second film as director after the impressive Michael Clayton (2007), which had its share of time tripping. There was also a nasty edge to that film, a cynicism about business and lawyers and lies. Duplicity is about those things too, but now in a sting-like setup with the soft center of a romantic entanglement. That’s between Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, both yearning to be cute. He’s too James Bond, and she’s grown somewhat matronly… and therein lies one of many problems.
You may get a headache keeping up with the shifts — at one point there’s a flashback ala The Exterminating Angel, but the momentary reiteration (a repeated exchange between Owens and Roberts) seems less a nod to surrealism than simply a sloppy gaffe. At which point Gilroy would step in and ask, “or is it?” By that time, there may not be patience enough to entertain the question.
Here’s a novel idea targeted at post-9-11 urban paranoia: city gangs disguised in masks descend on subway cars and terrorize commuters with intricately choreographed hip hop dance routines. During its first fifteen minutes, Step Up 2: The Streets (2008) threatens to breathe welcome, long-overdue life into a dormant branch of the musical, with muscle and verve and passion. Then, as if frightened of its own potential, the scenario (by Toni Ann Johnson and Karen Barna, directed by Jon Chu) detours into familiar Fame territory, losing itself in weak characters and rigged situations, blundering on with way too little dance, even less music and far too much soap opera. There’s the contrived showstopping finale, ruinously shot in the rain, grossly distracting and an insult to a group of fine, attractive dancers. This film should be remade — sooner than later — by filmmakers who’ve got flow… sk1llz… game… whatever.
Labels: Capsule reviews