"Duplicity" Remixes Business with Pleasure

Duplicity *** 1/2

The latest entry in the double-crossing cons-in-love sweepstakes opens perfectly. An altercation between two corporate titans (Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson) unfolds in ultra-slow motion and in silence; their mano-a-mano fight sets up the film’s action deftly without any exposition and without even telling us who the combatants are.

It hardly matters. These bitter business rivals are the reason our stars (Julia Roberts and Clive Owen) are running their tangled schemes. Owen—whose suave sexuality should have made him the current James Bond in place of that charmless Vladimir Putin lookalike Daniel Craig—and Roberts play corporate spies who may or may not be in love with one another and may or may not be playing on the same team.

The justly praised script (by writer/director Tony Gilroy) is handled with skill by Owen and Roberts, who sparred just as nimbly but much more viciously in Closer. Here, they show off their comic chops and generate some heat during their intermittent encounters in sumptuous hotel rooms in Dubai London, Rome, and Miami.

The atmosphere—in and out of the bedroom—is all about who’s conning who, and the plot twists are fresh and fun.

However, our current real-life flurry of corporate bad behavior makes it difficult to summon much sympathy for either side in the corporate war. And when we finally learn the secret they’re fighting over, it’s hard not to wish that something more socially important was at stake. But this is no Michael Clayton.

Viewers who insist on knowing precisely why the double-crosses are coming thick and fast, or on following each curve of the plot’s many twists and turns, may leave frustrated.

But for those for whom an invigorating ride is enough, Duplicity is honest entertainment.

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