Like most, I consider the Times' A.O. Scott one of the very best critics writing in the English language, thanks not only to the elegant wit of his prose--his review of Seven Pounds may have been the most entertaining I read last year--but also to the fact that he very rarely lets his exceptional style get in the way of good common sense. When I disagree with him over a film, it is more often than not over the relative weight assigned to a particular aspect: Was Virtue A enough to overcome Flaw X, and so on. So I found it interesting, and more than a touch surprising, that the great virtue he singled out in this weekend's big release, Duplicity, was exactly what I found to be its decisive flaw. Here's Scott:
Happily, the movie effervesces.... If what thrills you is the swift-moving, unrelenting contest between equal and opposing forces, then the movies you seek out are surely the great romantic comedies of the studio era, verbal boxing matches that draw blood and end in kisses. And you have to go back that far--to the glory days of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, let’s say--to find a duel of sharp wits, hidden agendas and simmering desires as satisfying as what transpires between Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.... [F]rom the moment they meet, sipping frozen drinks at a Middle Eastern Fourth of July barbecue, a crackle of sexual tension ignites between them.
My take, by contrast:
Like the carnal encounter with which it opens, it’s a film that goes through the motions.... [W]hile Clive is often good, and Julia intermittently so, they are rarely much good together. This is largely not their fault. The flashbacks and present-day confrontations with which Gilroy saddles them really constitute one scene replayed to exhaustion: her aggressively suspicious, him mopily defensive, and both of them forever bemoaning the fact that their careers in deception have rendered them incapable of trust. But look, just because Claire and Ray constantly doubt one another doesn’t mean they can’t have a good time doing it. (To clarify this point, I recommend to Gilroy a re-viewing of Charade at his earliest convenience.) Instead of a passionate coupling of cunning minds, we get a pair of sumptuous steaks lacking any hint of sizzle, the espionage equivalent of an irritable old married couple.
I didn't actively dislike the film, but the lack of romantic spark and sexual chemistry between the leads was precisely what prevented me from much enjoying it. Scott loved the film, in large part thanks to what he saw as an abundance of said spark and chemistry. I'd guess that expectations played a role in both our responses: This is exactly the kind of smart, witty genre film I wish Hollywood could provide in greater abundance (and quality), and a similar hunger seems evident in Scott's review. Such pre-enthusiasm tends, I think to tip a person one way or the other, either to overwhelm or to magnify objections. In any case, I'm curious to hear the thoughts of anyone else who saw the film. Are Roberts and Owen a new Hepburn and Grant? Or a tad too close for comfort to J-Lo and Affleck?