2000, R, 112 min. Directed by Bruce Paltrow. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Huey Lewis, André Braugher, Scott Speedman, Maria Bello, Paul Giamatti, Angie Dickinson.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 15, 2000
This awkwardly nuanced story about the world of karaoke hustlers and other lost souls will have you singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home” long before the film crosses its finish line. A movie about mediocre singers starved for attention needs more than this iffy premise to sustain viewer interest, and that's where Duets' various converging storylines come into play. These six capable lead actors are paired off into three separate narrative strands that are cross-cut until all six characters inevitably come together at a karaoke championship in Omaha. Vying for a winner's purse of $5,000, each one has unique reasons for being there. Unfortunately, the movie's inability to create genuine viewer interest in or sympathy for any of these characters leaves the audience to wade through storylines as lackluster as the many musical interludes. It's hard to say what this film might have been before approximately 15 minutes were excised in order to satisfy the Disney studio's distribution requirements. Supposedly what's gone are some overt images of gun violence and some edits that were made in an effort to smooth out the film's abrupt shifts in tone. Since Duets' primary stumbling block remains its awkward shifts in tone we may never know to what degree the excisions helped or hurt this endeavor. Paltrow (with her dad, who is best known for his television directing and producing work on The White Shadow and St. Elsewhere, in the director's chair) appears in a daffy but potentially poignant storyline with rock star and newbie actor Huey Lewis as two people who belong together, only they just don't know it yet. ER's Bello and Felicity's Speedman join up for a plot about two emotionally lost strangers who come together out of convenience and need. Giamatti (Pig Vomit in Private Parts) and Braugher (Homicide) have the trickiest pairing and the most dramatic work to do. Giamatti is a road-weary frequent flyer who decides to abandon his job and family for a life of ... drugs, sex, and karaoke? Braugher plays an escaped convict who sings like a dream, and presumably, his plotline was the one hurt most by the post-production edits. Angie Dickinson pops in for a small role as Gwyneth's grandma, but even her welcome presence isn't enough to put a smile on this thing. Like a karaoke singer starved for the embrace of an audience, Duets wants very much to be liked. But only the most indulgent would fail to notice that this movie can't hold a tune.