Sing us a song, you're the karaoke man
A movie about karaoke singers proves to be off key
Every once in a while a movie comes out that seems just a tad too ludicrous to believe. Case in point: Gwyneth Paltrow's newest film, "Duets." Sound harmless enough, right? But no, lurking behind a seemingly innocent title is an offensive film, a detestable film, a ridiculous film -- - -- a film about karaoke. That's right, karaoke. "Duets" is the story of people who sing non-professionally in bars. It's bad enough having to hear it in bars, now they want us to see a movie about it.
Paltrow ("Shakespeare in Love") stars as Liv, a Vegas showgirl who just lost her mother. When she goes to the coffin, a scruffy looking man is standing there fixing the corpse's hair. It turns out to be her father, Ricky Dean, played by '80s superstar Huey Lewis. She remembers everything about the few birthday presents he sent her and he remembers nothing, yet Paltrow's grandmother is convinced that she should go with Lewis.
Meanwhile, Todd, (Paul Giamatti, "Man on the Moon," "Private Parts") is Johnny Suburban with two kids a soccer mom wife and a job that keeps him on the road where he builds up over 800,000 frequent-flier miles. He meets up with a hitchhiking ex-con named Reggie, played by Andre Braugher(Braugher, however, could not sing well enough on his own, so his songs are a blend of him and a man named Arnold McCuller. Strangely, the songs he sings are attributed to McCuller alone. Quite suspicious.) Reggie is running from the cops and carries a firearm. Together, they start to become each other. Giamatti teaches Reggie to drive and Giamatti learns how to rob a store. He-he.
And, the third plot line involves a young cab driver, Billy, and a woman he meets at a bar, Suzi, who is willing to sleep her way to California. The cab driver, played by Felicity's Scott Speedman wants nothing more than to live a happy fulfilling life when he is convinced to take the loose woman is played by the attractive Maria Bello who persuades him to take her after his girlfriend cheats on him. Ho-ho.
These three groups are all driven by the same thing -- - -- the stupidest script ever. Oh yeah, and karaoke. The three duets converge on Omaha, Neb. for a big karaoke showdown where the winner takes a whopping $5,000, the same amount a person could win on "Win Ben Stein's Money" on Comedy Central.
John Byrum wrote "Duets," his first screenplay produced since a 1991 made for TV movie. The film was directed by Bruce Paltrow, father of Gwyneth, who most likely called a movie studio and was like, "Yeah, I'd like to make a movie where my daughter can look pretty and she's got a nice voice, so she should sing. And my daughter is an Academy Award winner, so you better find me something quick. Got it?" So the studio is worried for a few minutes, and they remember the script for a karaoke movie that they read the other day. "It's hokey" one studio exec says. Another replies "We'll just get another attractive woman and have her take her clothes off." And that's how a movie gets made.
The script reads like a soap opera, which is not surprising considering Bruce Paltrow's background. He worked as director and producer of "St. Elsewhere" for a while and it seems like he liked that job so much that he tried to take it to the big screen.
Here are some examples of the wonderful soap opera-esque lines in the movie:
On karaoke -- - -- "That's Karaoke -- - -- It's a way of life."
On karaoke -- - -- "No, no way, I'd be way too nervous."
On karaoke -- - -- "Can I watch you work?" "No, because you wouldn't understand."
On grieving -- - -- "You're grieving." "Yeah." "I smell it on your breath."
On being a loser -- - -- "You're right, I'm the loser. I was just too dumb to notice."
On changing -- - -- "I'm different now -- - -- I sing."
And here's the best, about a life in prison -- - -- "I'm tired of living in a middle class prison." "You don't know anything about prison."
Try not to read those too many times or your brain might explode.
However, unlike the Soap Opera theme in "Nurse Betty," it fails in "Duets" because,well, it wasn't intentional. The movie just turns out to be a poorly written pseudo-comedy with some inkling of being a romantic comedy at the very end.
The use of three intertwining plot lines makes it look like a bad Paul Thomas Anderson movie. Anderson, of course, is the director of "Boogie Nights" and Magnolia," which had a plot line that went from character to character and finally came together in the end. Anderson achieved a beautiful harmony -- - -- -director Paltrow achieved a disjointed cacophony.
Actress Paltrow does the best she can with the script she was given. She plays a naA_ve girl who looks pretty and she totally plays that up. It doesn't work at all. She totally looks the part of a Vegas showgirl, but no, it's not believable.
The real stars of the show are Giamatti and surprisingly, Lewis. Giamatti, ever since his role of Pig Vomit in "Private Parts" and his role as Andy Kaufman's buddy Bob Zmuda in "Man on the Moon," has become the best supporting actor in Hollywood. He takes his laughable lines and tries his best to make them work, and while they don't, he still does a good job with physical comedy.
Huey Lewis, while not as great as Giamatti, is shockingly good. He's a gravely voiced 50ish looking man and he comes off as a sleazy guy with a heart of gold, and it's through the power of love that he embraces his daughter. And no, The News do not make an appearance.
Maria Bello and Scott Speedman do nothing in this movie. They could be removed and no one would be any different. Chances are, because Bello gets naked, the subplot was maintained. It sure wasn't for the story.
That statement is a representation for the entire movie. It wasn't made for the story. Why was it made? Your guess is as good as mine.