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DUPLICITY (director/writer: Tony Gilroy; cinematographer: Robert Elswit; editor: John Gilroy; music: James Newton Howard; cast: Julia Roberts (Claire Stenwick), Clive Owen (Ray Koval), Tom Wilkinson (Howard Tully), Paul Giamatti (Richard Garsik), Denis O’Hare (Duke Monahan), Kathleen Chalfant (Pam Frales), Tom McCarthy (Jeff Bauer), Carrie Preston (Barbara Bofferd), Rick Worthy (Dale Raimes); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Jennifer Fox/Kerry Orent/Laura Bickford; Universal Pictures; 2009)
“The globetrotting spy thriller never measures up to being first-rate.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Everything about writer-director Tony Gilroy’s (“Michael Clayton”) corporate espionage caper story, more a romantic comedy than a thriller, is a scam, including the film itself. The globetrotting spy thriller never measures up to being first-rate. It bogs down in its plodding execution and torpid pacing, as the lighthearted romantic-comedy with the dense espionage plotline asks if love can be found between two professional liars who can never trust each other and are masters at deception. It’s loaded with flashbacks (segueing back and forth in time and place as it monotonously travels between Dubai, Rome, London, Zurich, the Bahamas, Miami, Cleveland and New York), as it retraces two super spies, former CIA agent Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) and former MI6 agent Ray Koval (Clive Owen), who left their government agencies to cash in on the big bucks flowing in the field of corporate spying.

The spies first met in 2003 as government agents at a Fourth of July celebration at the US Embassy, where after a one-night stand Claire drugged Ray and stole from the humiliated veteran field agent some secret documents on Egyptian air-defense codes. We next see them in New York, five years later, when both have left their government posts for high paying spy jobs in the corporate world–for multinational corporations Burkett & Randle and Equikrom. On his first assignment working for Equikrom in Manhattan, where he’s a last minute addition to a high-tech team of spies, Ray becomes Claire’s field agent while she’s a mole for Equikrom employed as a security officer by the rival Burkett & Randle. The spies are caught up in the bitter rivalry between two ruthless CEOs, the spies employer, the comically obsessed nervous monster head of Equikrom, Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti), and the sneaky soap tycoon of Burkett & Randle, Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson). Both firms use disinformation and counterintelligence, and any cloak-and-dagger trick they can–even those used by the superpowers in their espionage operations. It’s a film where everything is not as it seems, and that includes the duplicitous relationship of Claire and Ray.

As the corporate spying gets nasty over the possibility of a new miracle product coming out by Tully’s firm to restore hair for bald men, Gilroy follows the romantic tension of the spies making plans together to betray their employers and make a big killing to put them on Easy Street. But, at the same time, they are each wondering if their love for each other is enough to keep them on the same page to work together to steal the secret formula. What fuels their attraction to each other is that they think alike and could see through all the masks they wear since they have the same devious nature.

The film’s best and funniest scene is the opening one as the credits roll by, that had the two cutthroat captains of industry on the airport tarmac having a slo-mo fight and their two corporate teams watching in disbelief.

Though the idea of following corporate spies is a fresh concept as far as recent films go, spy films are not and neither is the tiresome romance between the two. At its best, it’s only mildly entertaining. The more it keeps hammering home the point that the central couple may love each other but can never trust each other in a relationship, the more grating it becomes. The two stars worked together in Mike Nichols’s “Closer” and though they seemed to like each other and play off their instincts, they nevertheless in neither that film nor in this one ignite any romantic sparks. The film sinks or swims depending on how the viewer took to the romance and not to the red herring corporate intrigue tale. I saw it as a lifeless romance between a middle-aged couple without enough chemistry between them to make things explode or for me to give a damn who was getting gamed.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”