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Duplex
2/5 UK title: Our House
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Danny DeVito
scr Larry Doyle
with Drew Barrymore, Ben Stiller, Eileen Essell, Robert Wisdom, Harvey Fierstein, James Remar, Justin Theroux, Wallace Shawn, Swoozie Kurtz, Maya Rudolph, Amber Valetta, Cheryl Klein
release US 26.Sep.03; UK 30.Apr.04
Miramax
03/US 1h23

Trapped in their own home: Stiller and Barrymore

remar theroux devito
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Our House You'd think the Stiller-Barrymore combination would be enough to make any movie work, but they've somehow been stripped of their engaging personalities here. As a director, DeVito seems to have lost his black comedy gene; this film desperately wants to revisit his darkly hilarious Throw Momma From the Train, but he ends up with another mean-spirited Death to Smoochy.

After realising they can't afford anything in Manhattan, Alex and Nancy (Stiller and Barrymore) buy a gorgeous flat in Brooklyn, a duplex with a second apartment they can unite with theirs once the tenant, Mrs Connelly (Essell), leaves. Which shouldn't be long, because she's nearly 100 years old. Guess again: This old lady is a bundle of energy, who soon jeopardises Alex's work writing his next novel and Nancy's career as a magazine editor, not to mention making their home life an absolute misery. So of course they begin to plot a way to get her out.

There's a nice dark comedy in this script that's flattened by DeVito's direction, which continually opts for manic goofiness and cruel vulgarity. There are flashes of funny dialog, and the excellent cast injects sparks of life. But they're all wasted, with the exception of Essell, who's hilarious even though the film seems to want us to laugh at her rather too much. Wisdom also rises above the fray as the suspicious local cop. But Barrymore and Stiller never get a chance to develop either the caper possibilities or the chemistry between them. And the rest of the cast left with glorified cameos--Fierstein as the estate agent DeVito would normally play here, Remar as a hitman-pornographer, Theroux as Alex's more-successful writer friend, Shawn as Nancy's nervous boss, Kurtz as Alex's shark-like editor. There's enough freewheeling energy and charm to keep us watching, but as the story progresses the film gets increasingly contrived, letting scenes go over the top in a mindless, predictable way that doesn't even raise a smile. In the end the film falls to pieces, exposing the fact that besides a few evil laughs, there's no reason for it to exist at all.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 5.Feb.04

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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