Beautiful Julia and Clive Make Sweet Lies Together

c rexduplicity 2h Beautiful Julia and Clive Make Sweet Lies TogetherDuplicity
Running time 125 minutes
Written and
directed by Tony Gilroy
Starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti

Duplicity is the latest computerized concoction churned out by Tony Gilroy’s DeskJet printer in the exact same mold as the writer-director’s overrated George Clooney vehicle, Michael Clayton—slick, super-contrived, pretty to look at and totally, completely preposterous. It also features a face or two that makes wasting your time and I.Q. a not entirely unpleasant experience.

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen are Claire and Ray, two C.I.A. agents who meet cute at a U.S. Consulate cocktail party in Dubai in 2003 and sack out for a memorable one-night stand. While he’s still asleep, she steals his top-secret files and disappears. Five years later, he spots her again in Grand Central Station. By now she’s been promoted to assistant director of counterintelligence, and although she pretends she doesn’t know him, the affair starts all over again. But wait. When the film cuts to “2 Years Earlier,” we learn that he spotted her once before, in the Piazza Navona in Rome, and they locked themselves in a hotel suite, where they sucked face for three days. The rest of the film hopscotches from Manhattan to the Bahamas to Miami Beach to London to Cleveland cataloguing their tricks, maneuvers and travel requisitions as they outsmart each other between popping Champagne corks and making ticky-ticky. Nothing they do makes any sense, but finally, something transpires that vaguely resembles a plot: If they’re so good at cheating each other, says Claire, why not take their talents to the private sector? Think of the money to be made bilking major corporations out of enough money to live happily ever after ($40 million by her mental calculator)? So they go to work for rival corporations that make millions introducing and marketing new products. Ray comes up with an idea for frozen pizza, but Claire’s got a better idea: “Project Samson,” revolving around a top-secret product both companies would kill for. Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti are the adversarial CEOs who would do anything short of murder to control the marketing world. Among the wasted but watchable top-deck personnel who do their illegal bidding, you’ll find such seasoned Broadway talents as Kathleen Chalfant, Denis O’Hare and Thomas McCarthy. Slumming never looked so good.

While the stars rant, accuse, resent, interrogate, distrust and betray each other with dialogue too precious, smart and fast-paced to be even momentarily believable, I stopped worrying about what they were doing and just leaned back to enjoy looking at them and their Technicolor travelogue. Ms. Roberts keeps her trademark picket fence grin to a minimum, and Mr. Owen looks nice with short hair and clean-shaven for a change, modeling a Giorgio Armani wardrobe to die for. Like Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, neither one of them has a clue how to choose a script worth reading or a movie worth acting in, but they’re always camera-ready.

As the title Duplicity implies, everyone in the movie has a split personality and a dual identity, and when you find out that the chicanery, the jealousy and the years of sweat and mystery and computer math add up to a secret formula for a shampoo that cures baldness … you might just want to make a citizen’s arrest. After more break-ins than Watergate, the big twist ending everything leads up to asks: Whose duplicity will result in the final scam of scams? By that time, you’ll be too sated with entertainment value to care. Duplicity is a romp, and there’s no nudity, violence or even the sight of a gun involved. Today at the movies, you learn to be grateful for small favors.

rreed@observer.com