Duets Movie Review

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In Duets, karaoke bars dominate the American Western landscape like Taco Bells and Starbucks. They're in every major city and full of hot, young people swaying while marginally talented participants sing Weather Girls covers.

Karaoke is a craze, the way dandruff or waxy ears are a craze. I like to think I'm pretty pop culture savvy, thanks to years of reading Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. But I don't remember reading one article about karaoke clubs being the discos of our times.

If that were the case, I think I would have moved far, far away from this country.

The absurdity of introducing karaoke as a happening trend is the first of many flaws in Bruce Paltrow's bafflingly bad movie, which features three duos struggling with each other while traveling to Omaha for a $5,000 karaoke contest.

We have the rugged, wandering karaoke hustler (this is not a joke) played by Huey Lewis(!). He meets his long-lost, family-happy daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow, Bruce's daughter) after her mother dies.

Then we have a corporate, married schmoe (the talented Paul Giamatti), chucking it all away after a bad day at the office. Warbling through Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me" in a New Mexico joint revives his spirits, which he shares with the escaped convict hitchhiker he picks up (Andre Braugher).

I'm not even going to bother describing the circumstances that bring Felicity's Scott Speedman and Payback's Maria Bello together. You've probably run away screaming by now. If not, thanks for keeping up.

Like most bad movies, the characters are rehashed. I've seen Gwyneth Paltrow and Lewis' situation countless time, mostly on daytime talk shows. Giamatti and Braugher have a kind of Odd Couple thing going. Bello plays another slut with a heart of gold, while Speedman is looking for spiritual guidance.

Some of these people can act, especially Paltrow and Giamatti. There might be hope if screenwriter John Byrum hadn't included a stupid road movie plot and vignette format, turning them into faceless dramatics. Since their development stops at scene one, they sound like a broken record throughout the entire film. Giamatti is the worst culprit, blathering on endlessly about the need to return to old-fashioned American values. With more background this could have been interesting, but instead it's like being hit over the head with a mallet.

This lack of character care also leads to more questions than the SATs. What caused Bello, who gets what she wants through her body, on her path? If Lewis has been away from his family for so long, who gave him a call that his lover was dead? And why did he even bother to show up? What did Braugher do to land in jail, and why does he take a shine to Giamatti, instead of robbing the guy?

The movie's lone bright spot is that the singing is okay. At least it's not as bad as Woody Allen's misguided musical Everyone Says I Love You. Gwyneth in particular, sounds great.

But I didn't really enjoy the musical numbers, save for Gwyneth's climatic duet with Lewis. To me, karaoke is a self-indulgent, embarrassing act that is best left in the privacy of one's own home. With the shades pulled. And the doors locked. I can't buy singing as any kind of triumph of the will, as portrayed here.

For those die-hard karaoke fans (or hustlers) that go from dive to dive craving for the next Leo Sayer tune to cover, you'll love it. All five of you.

And all five of you will thrill to the DVD release of Duets, which features the usual trailers, deleted scenes, and commentary tracks... but where's the feature that every fan would kill for: karaoke features???

Luck be a lady tonight.

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Duets Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: R, 2000

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