Friday, September 26, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Stiller, Barrymore, DeVito — how did 'Duplex' go so wrong?

Seattle Times movie critic

In Danny DeVito's black comedy "Duplex," Ben Stiller plays a writer working on his second novel; his first novel, which we glimpse briefly, is titled "Crying in the Sprinkler."

Oh, now I've gone and done it: I've told you the only remotely funny thing about this movie. Now you can take those 89 minutes and go see a good movie, or go out and kick autumn leaves around the yard, or sit comfortably in your living room pondering why smart people make moronic movies. No matter how you spend those precious minutes, you will undoubtedly have a better time than at "Duplex," unless you are the sort who finds the idea of Drew Barrymore vomiting on Stiller's face aesthetically thrilling.

Hopes must have been high, at some point, for this movie: Stiller's sardonic wit and Barrymore's squeaky charm seemed like a good match. But Larry Doyle's screenplay takes one joke — yuppie couple is so exasperated by their little-old-lady upstairs tenant that they eventually plot her demise — and, well, that's all there is, despite lashings of gross-out humor, "Riverdance" spoofs and an old-lady striptease.

Movie review

"Duplex," with Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore, Eileen Essell, Harvey Fierstein, Justin Theroux, James Remar. Directed by Danny DeVito, from a screenplay by Larry Doyle. 89 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and some violence. Several theaters.

DeVito clearly intended to take this film in the direction of his far better 1989 divorce comedy "The War of the Roses," in which recognizable behavior slowly is transformed to over-the-top satire. But in "Duplex," you don't see the transformation, because Alex (Stiller) and Nancy (Barrymore) are never recognizably real; just faceless, perked-up New York yuppies with as much distinction as a crumpled Starbucks cup.

Harvey Fierstein, in a too-brief appearance as a real-estate agent, tries to wheeze some life into the movie, and Eileen Essel, rheumy of eye and snowy of hair, has a wicked gleam in her eye as the tyrannical Mrs. Connelly. But otherwise, "Duplex" has a faint reek of slice-and-dice desperation, as if everyone involved realized too late that they'd hitched themselves to a turkey. Crying in the sprinkler, or crying at the movie exit? You decide.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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