The perplexed female patron was inquiring about the film, "Duplicity." I told her that she wasn't stupid. "Duplicity" is so convoluted that multiple viewings are necessary for the puzzling subplots to fall into place. Therefore, she said, she had wasted $8 on a senior citizen ticket and wasn't going to waste any more on "multiple viewings." In other words, she felt duped.
Written and directed by Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton"), "Duplicity" is as slick as the "Ocean's 11" franchise with its international locations and complex cons, but not as sexy. That's because Clive Owen and Julia Roberts lack the chemical magic that makes fireworks happen on screen. They play former government spies, Ray Koval and Claire Stenwick, who have opted to use their sneaky skills to do dirty deeds for competing commercial corporate giants, resembling Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. In the opening titles, the war is personified by a slow-motion airport punching/ wrestling match between rival CEOs (Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson). It is simple, funny and insightful. Gilroy should have quit while he was ahead.
The rest of the movie jumps back and forth in time, using a shrinkingscreen gimmick to divide the scams into sections, as the supposedly sexy spy-cons banter, bed and battle in various exotic locales. The schemes are incomprehensible for long stretches, until settling on one. It involves the search for the "Holy Grail" of body care products, the formula for hair growth (Rogaine, notwithstanding). The storyline solidifies in the finale because the hair-formula con clicks.
However, many audience members, like the aforementioned senior, may have been left choking in confusion … and focusing on another con, the loss of $8.