Duets

2000, Movie, R, 113 mins

Review

DUETS
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Six unhappy people en route to an Omaha, NE, karaoke contest make important discoveries about themselves and decisions about their lives while singing along to popular songs. Salesman Todd (Paul Giamatti) has fled his sterile job and family, and gives a lift to Reggie (Andre Braugher), not realizing that his new friend is an unrehabilitated ex-con. Suzi (Maria Bello) is hustling her way to California, where she plans to become a recording star; she badgers the despondent Billy (Scott Speedman), a small-town cabbie who's just caught his girlfriend cheating with his partner, into joining her on the road. Meanwhile, professional karaoke hustler Ricky Dean (Huey Lewis) has just met his grown daughter Liv (Gwyneth Paltrow), and is flummoxed by her desperate determination to spend time with the total stranger who abandoned her as a child. Directed by golden girl Paltrow's TV producer/director father Bruce Paltrow (St. Elsewhere, The White Shadow), this soft, formulaic comedy/drama has a far better cast than it deserves, and they work their hearts out trying to bring life to a cliched script. They really shouldn't have bothered; you'll see every plot twist long before it arrives, and karaoke (at least in Paltrow senior's hands) is a singularly uncompelling metaphor for the battered American dream. For such a piece of fluff, this film has a notoriously troubled production history. It survived the loss of Brad Pitt, who decamped after his high-profile breakup with Ms. Paltrow, and was later delayed amid reports that Disney executives had demanded the excision of two violent shooting scenes that Paltrow pere wanted to keep. Well, the violence is gone (one scene was removed, the other trimmed), which seriously dilutes whatever impact the Giamatti/Braugher story might have had, but we still get to hear Bello's character offer brightly to barter sexual favors of the oral variety for various goods and services. That didn't phase the suits? leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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