The last thing you'd expect when you combine the talent of Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore and Danny DeVito is a flop, but that is exactly what Duplex is - no one went to go see it in theaters. Now it's on video and DVD, and surprisingly, it has something to offer.
Duplex stars Stiller and Barrymore as a married couple who have found their dream house in Brooklyn. It's an affordable and beautiful duplex - the only problem is that there is an old woman living upstairs, and the only way that they can get the place to themselves is via her death. To make matters worse, this old woman is an extremely annoying woman, so bothersome that it drives the couple to attempt to accelerate her passing. Things aren't as easy as they seem.
Though not nearly as dark as Death to Smoochy, Duplex does have some elements that make it impossible to classify it as a light comedy. Much of the humor (the best of it) is harmless, but as the two lead characters become more and more desperate to do away with the old woman, the movie becomes darker and darker, and worse and worse. Very few films successfully pull off being dark and funny at the same time, especially when the whole plot revolves around killing an elderly woman. The elderly woman (played by Eileen Essel) is ruthlessly evil, but nonetheless...
Duplex was ignored by audiences and slapped by most critics, but the movie is surprisingly funny for the first 70 minutes. In fact, it is really funny for a long stretch, with some very clever jokes. Stiller plays his character with ease and seemingly feels very comfortable with the jokes that are offered to him. He typically plays men that are about as awkward as they come; here, he's already married and isn't nearly as manic. Of course, he doesn't venture too far into new territory, but there is a noticeable, pleasant difference. Barrymore, while good enough, seems like a filler character more than anything else; she doesn't have much to do other than being "the wife." A few jokes come her way, but basically she stands back and allows Stiller to go to work. Essel is also very entertaining as the old woman.
The problem with Duplex is that while it is consistently entertaining for the first 70 minutes, it is consistently dull and unfunny for the last 20. That's not a good way to finish a film. In the last 20 minutes, the couple destroy part of their home, hire a killer to off the woman, start a fire and do other things that just do not make any sense and are not even remotely funny. The movie goes from day to night in the matter of a minute.
Duplex is somewhat predictable but does provide lots of laughs. The final act is absolutely terrible, however. Nevertheless, it is worth watching, as Stiller is at the top of his game.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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