MovieScope By Robert Snyder
As a film director, Danny DeVito has it in for little old ladies. His sympathy, however, goes out to struggling writers.
His first production, "Throw Momma From the Train," has Billy Crystal playing an author with writer’s block and a problematic ex-wife. He encounters a nerdish character (DeVito) bent on liquidating his nagging mother. Following the example of Alfred Hitchcock’s "Strangers on a Train," the two acquaintances make an informal deal to knock off the annoying factor in each other’s lives.
Although DeVito’s "War of the Roses" is equally black-hearted, it doesn’t involve the elderly or the writing profession. But, his new "Duplex" does.
In it, Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore portray young marrieds, writer Alex Rose and magazine editor Nancy Kendricks, wishing to spread their wings and limited finances by branching out to a bigger abode. Narrated by DeVito, the cartoon introduction has them considering different habitats and finally settling on a gothic brownstone in Brooklyn. Their real estate agent Kenneth (Harvey Fierstein) sells them on the idea that this dream home has three fireplaces and one little old lady living upstairs, who’s about to die. That means that they as landlords will soon be able to use the second-floor space for a possible child’s room. Of course, their future hopes are based on the expected success of Alex’s soon-to-be finished second novel…along with their ailing tenant’s demise.
After moving into their new digs, it becomes startlingly clear that tenant Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essell) is a lot healthier than anticipated. And, she’s a night owl who keeps the TV blasting until dawn, particularly favoring such shows as "Hawaii Five-0." During the day when Alex has to write, she creates unrelenting aggravation, constantly asking her new landlord to help her with chores and errands. Conniving and manipulative, she makes Minnie Castevet (Ruth Gordon) of "Rosemary’s Baby" appear almost angelic. Before long, the landlords’ lives are destroyed and murderous thoughts are entering their minds.
When Mrs. Connelly’s actions completely deplete what’s left of their
luck, the concept of killing her becomes a reality. In fact, they scrape together some big bucks and buy themselves the services of a hit man.
The question is…is concocting ways to murder old ladies in bad taste?
You bet it is. But bad taste is what DeVito’s black comedies are all
about. Any doubt of this should be dispelled by "Duplex’s" flu-vomit sequence.
"What will I have to do next? Wipe Mrs. Connelly’s ass?" he says a
little to loudly at a restaurant. It’s funny, but not funny enough to overcome the overall sordidness of "Duplex."
Scripted by "The Simpsons’ producer/writer Larry Doyle, the story and dialogue only shine when Mrs. Connelly is on screen. Essell is so entertaining that you want her to win against the ultimately not-so-nice couple.
Although Alex and Nancy want her out Mrs. Connelly is the only element
that makes "Duplex" worth buying.