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by shahriar khan |



Director Bruce Paltrow’s daughter Gwyneth, hair longer and blonder than ever before, plays Liv a Vegas hotel receptionist who meets her father Ricky Dean (Huey Lewis) for the first time — at her mother’s funeral. Ricky is a karaoke hustler, who makes his living by challenging the hottest singers (and their managers) in karaoke to a singing duel, which he inevitably wins. Gwyneth wants a father, Huey wants anything but a daughter.

Huey Lewis with his rock-star arrogance is fine whenever he’s near a microphone, but away from the stage his performance wavers a little. And Gwyneth Paltrow, in a dog of a part (apparently she’s the only virgin in Vegas) has done better. But she sure can carry a tune, and her amatory rendition of the 70s hit ‘ Cruisin’ with Huey Lewis is one of the highlights of the movie.

Maria Bello, in an engaging performance (how often can it be said in a Gwyneth movie that Gwyneth is outdazzled?) plays the flip side of the Lewis character, Suzi Loomis. Another amoral hustler who will stop at nothing to achieve her dream of winning the $5000 Grand Prize on offer in the Karaoke Contest in Omaha, Nebraska. At the story start she is in West Virginia and has no money. But she has her golden tongue and is not afraid to use it as men who can help her in her quest are offered to find out.

The success of a rambling story like this depends on us empathising with the protagonists and Duets really belongs to American everyman theme-park salesman Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti). Familiar as second-string supporting actor in countless movies (Man on the Moon, Truman Show, Saving Private Ryan) takes centre stage here as he finds that having achieved the American Dream: big job, big house, big family and countless frequent-flyer air miles it ain’t worth a thing if he ain’t got that swing. He takes to the road for a pack of cigarettes, meets a girl, takes some pills, becomes Tom Jones, and embarks on a wannabe vigilante life. "I can’t go back to who I was. I’m different now. I sing", he tells his hapless wife.

Andre Braugher plays another of his angels without wings characters here, as ex-con Reggie Kane and does it as nobly as ever. Worth the admission price for Giamatti’s and (the dubbed) Braugher’s sublime rendition of the Otis Redding classic ‘Try A Little Tenderness’, once the protagonists make their meandering way to Omaha we actually get to see some real-life karaoke pros in action. And it ain’t always pretty but they sure do know how to have a good time!

It probably takes a star of Gwyneth’s stature to make karaoke cool, but even without her, Duets amply succeeds in showing just how rewarding it can be to share the gift of song with some strangers. It might not be art, but karaoke in this movie is a metaphor for bigness of heart. Make mine ‘Islands in the Stream’ maestro!

Director: Bruce Paltrow
Producers: Kevin Jones, Bruce Paltrow and John Byrum
Screenplay: John Byrum
DOP: Paul Sarossy
Editor: Gerald B. Greenberg
Production Designer: Sharon Seymour
Costume Designer: Mary Claire Hannan
Cast includes: Gwyneth Paltrow, Huey Lewis, Maria Bello, Angie Dickinson, Paul Giamatti
Production Company: Seven Arts Pictures and Beacon Pictures
Distributor: Icon
Country: USA
Year: 2000
Length 114 minutes

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