Retro Review: Duplex

Ben Stiller is a genius when it comes to explosive and reactionary comedy.

We have seen his brilliance in films like “There’s Something About Mary”, “Meet the Parents” and his hysterical guest stint on TV’s “Friends”.

We have seen him take comedic risks with cult faves such as “Zoolander”, “Mystery Men” and the critically acclaimed “The Royal Tenenbaums”. His latest film “Duplex” is another bold risk by the broadening comedian.

Stiller teams with starlet Drew Barrymore as a yuppie couple who are desperate to find the apartment of their dreams. Their realtor (Harvey Fierstein) recommends this little duplex with a lot of character. The little character that the place has seems to be the fact that the duplex has an 81-year old rent-controlled upstairs tenant named Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essel).

The couple thinks that a nice old lady will be quiet and very little bother so they move in.

Sweet elderly Mrs. Connelly becomes the tenant as nightmares for the couple as they literally watch their lives fall apart.

Driven insane by her demands and noise, the couple plots to get rid of the old hag. But how do two inexperienced yuppies bump off an old woman?

Directed by Danny DeVito, “Duplex” escalates and amplifies a lot of the dark comedic timing that has been seen in previous DeVito films. DeVito desperately wants to relive his comedy classic, “Throw Momma From the Train” with this one. In some ways he achieves that but in other ways it gets really difficult to maintain the laughs.

DeVito’s brilliance came with “Momma” continued with “War of the Roses” and pinnacled with his heart-breaking drama “Hoffa”. DeVito shows signs of surviving last year’s “Death to Smoochy” with “Duplex” but he still has a long way to go.

Barrymore and Stiller are great in this film but 82-year old Eileen Essel steals the show. Her performance reminded me a lot of how legendary Anne Ramsey stole “Momma” away from Billy Crystal and DeVito. It is a great performance.

“Duplex” runs out of steam when the central characters have to hire hitman/pornographer Chick (James Remar) to finish the job. Just before and until the film’s twist ending, I felt that it got to serious or had a hard time on how it was going to wrap-up the on-going feud.

I did find that “Duplex” has more moments than a solid construction. As for Ben Stiller movies, I think this one will end up in the “Zoolander” and “Mystery Men” collection than alongside “Mary” and “Meet the Parents”.

(3 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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