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GARY CHEW/Sacramento

If you're looking for a new movie that has scruples, it's probably best you don't see "Duplicity." There isn't even so much as a hint of a scruple in this new film written and directed by Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton," 2007).

Should you, however, have an appetite for some suspense and lots of laughs, knock yourself out with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. They come on like Bogie and Bacall in a cynical, smart, quick, non-sequential, flick about corporate espionage that's as fresh as the cool and classic Bogie/Bacall duo reads like yesterday's news.

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen
Julia Roberts and Clive Owen

What's hard to believe is that there's also not one character in "Duplicity" you could care less about. They're all scoundrels of the first order. But Roberts and Owen are so cute in their roles, while radiating such natural charisma as corporate cyber spies, you'll be with them every step of their wicked ways.

Other principal scumbags are Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkerson. They're competing CEOs trying to outwit the other's corporation to control the advent of a surefire, new product that will take the world by storm and make the winning company billions.

So now, an early recap: we've got no scruples, no likeable characters, but plenty of motivation ($).

Roberts and Owen are on the payroll of the opposing corporations even though they're bedding one another. A trusting relationship between them is something else that's missing in "Duplicity," even though they've agreed to covertly couple-up professionally, as well. The pair's mission is to shaft both companies so they can make millions selling the product's formula to Swiss business guys; then retire, together, to an expensive Rome hotel room and live happily ever after. Works for me.

Particularly outstanding in "Duplicity," Gilroy conjures great scenes between Roberts and Owen done in long takes. In these dialogues, Julia and Clive are at their best, especially Roberts in a take near the close of the film as the couple exchanges funny, but poignantly pregnant lines that go something a little like this: "I know who you are, but I love you anyway!"

Another longer scene of such caliber is one between Roberts and Carrie Preston. Preston's character falls victim to Owen's gaming her in a bar. She winds up with Clive on a desk in her office. The whole event (without nudity) is recorded on a security monitor. Roberts is assigned to do the debriefing on the duped woman, while having to not let on that she (Roberts) is actually Owen's secret lover. Ms. Roberts has hardly a word in the scene, but steals it just the same with her conflicted expressions. It's a challenge to get through it all without laughing. The joke is on Julia.

At the top of the film, during the opening credits when Giamatti and Wilkerson are locked in an altercation on a rainy airport tarmac---in slow-motion, no less---the soundtrack music blares through it all sounding like it's being played by that memorable brass section of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Ah, late 50s West Coast Big Band. Too cool. Music is used effectively to sustain suspense in "Duplicity" as well.

Giamatti and Wilkerson
Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkerson

Although the film has a benign tone to it with regard to violence, suspense cuts well into the emotions, throughout. Coarse talk is used a good deal, but the four-letter variety is suppressed.

One advisory, though: the shortcut storytelling method is relied on a lot by Gilroy. (I mentioned the out-of-sequence narrative.) The film is structured much like the cable TV series (and BTW, one of my faves), "Damages." Attention must be paid."

That notwithstanding, then considering recent history such as: the Enron debacle and the sagas of AIG, Rod Blagojevich and Bernie Madoff, I suggest we raise a toast to Gilroy's script, his direction, his stars and his movie, "Duplicity." With them he crystallizes all of the suffering that kind of skullduggery has caused, and makes it into some pretty tasty "lemonade." The film is a freakin' laugh riot poking fun at all of those people who fuel their lives on just greed and deceit.

I'm not giving away the ending when I ask you to remember: "He or she who laughs last---laughs best." You can bank on it.

"Duplicity" official site

Opens wide 3/20.

Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times

Gary Chew can be reached at: garychew@comcast.net

Copyright © 2009, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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