Finally, someone has put the fun back in corporate irresponsibility! Consider "Duplicity," Tony Gilroy's romantic pharmaceutical-espionage caper, an antidote to news of bailouts, bankruptcies and bogus bonuses: The CEOs of "Duplicity" may be wasting millions of dollars, but at least they're doing it to screw one another, not the taxpayers.
Starring Clive Owen and Julia Roberts as a pair of ex-spies now in the world of corporate intel, "Duplicity" pits two pharmaceutical companies against each other. Burkett & Randle, led by Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson), has discovered a cream that will revolutionize the industry. Equikrom, led by Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti) needs to steal the secret to that lotion. Both men are driven by a personal grudge, as shown in the movie's opening credit sequence, in which the executives wrestle each other to the ground on a rainy tarmac.
That a comical fight between two paunchy CEOs is the only violent scene in "Duplicity" makes it a spy thriller for those of us who feel a little bone-crunched-out by the Bourne series.
And there's romance, of sorts. Behind the scenes, Claire Stenwick (Roberts) and Ray Koval (Owen) work their nefarious magic, he on Equikrom's side, she on Burkett & Randle's. But are they both really working for each other? And can they really trust each other?
If there's a complaint to offer about "Duplicity," it's that it never allows its leading lady much room to strut her stuff. That famous rip-snorting Roberts laugh is unleashed once, about 10 minutes in, and never seen again.
Luckily, Owen and Roberts both get to play off Giamatti, who overacts gleefully.
"Duplicity" is a pleasant big-studio diversion, a screwball romance with beautiful movie stars set in gorgeous hotel rooms, deluxe office spaces and corporate jets. It's smart, it's for grown-ups and it lets Julia Roberts laugh, if just once. Short of a miracle cream, what else can you hope for from corporate America these days?
-- Dan Kois (March 20, 2009)
Contains language, sexuality and displays of obscene wealth.