Reviewed November 5th, 2001 by David Nusair
Duets does the impossible – it makes karaoke seem interesting.
For most of its running time, Duets is actually three mini movies that finally come together at the end. In story number one, we have a burned-out businessman (brilliantly played by Paul Giamatti) that finally decides to chuck it all and head off on a road trip. He meets up with a just-released-from-prison ex-con (Andre Braugher) and the two discover their love of karaoke while occasionally knocking off a convenience store. The second story features Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis as a just-reunited father and daughter team that take the karaoke world by storm (he’s a hustler of the scene while she just happens to have a beautiful voice). The third and final story stars Scott Speedman as a sad-sack cab driver whose girlfriend has been sleeping with his partner. He inadvertently hooks up with Maria Bello, a rebel karaoke singer.
While all the stories are fairly entertaining, it’s the Giamatti/Braugher tale that really cooks. These two actors are perfectly suited to one another, with Giamatti’s sudden rebellious personality change a nice counter-balance to Braugher’s laid-back criminal tendencies. Braugher, an all-around excellent actor, is just as good as usual, but it’s Giamatti that steals the spotlight. Previously best known for playing Howard Stern’s arch-nemesis “Pig Vomit” in Private Parts, Giamatti has been working steadily ever since. He’s always managed to steal scenes from even the best of actors (and this past summer, he managed to do that while buried underneath pounds of makeup in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes), but he really comes into his own here. This is a character that has to run the gamut of emotions – from the depression that comes with realizing your family is to busy to say hello, to the extreme high of performing on stage for the first time – and Giamatti is more than up to the challenge.
It’s because he’s so good (as is Braugher) that the other four seem underwhelming by comparison. But director Paltrow keeps the pace brisk, while the actors (except for Braugher) perform their songs quite well. Despite a violent ending that seems a little out of place (though not so much if you check out the deleted scenes that come with the DVD), Duets is a very enjoyable little road-trip movie.
Audio: Duets is presented with a DD 5.1 soundtrack and it delivers. The various songs are clear and crisp, though they never drown out dialogue. Ambient sounds aren’t really prevalent, but nonetheless, this is a very effective and subtle track.
Video: This 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is also quite nice. The locations for Duets vary wildly, from the smoky indoor karaoke clubs to the vast outdoor spaces of the Arizona desert. Likewise, the transfer handles all these scenes quite well. DVD related artifacts are non-existent, while film grain is kept to a minimum. A nice transfer.
Extras: Since this is a Buena Vista release, you’re first treated to three “preview” trailers for Bounce, Playing Mona Lisa, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? The actual extras begin with three deleted scenes, all involving Andre Braugher’s Reggie character. All three add a lot more depth to his character (and also make him slightly less sympathetic – which is probably why they were cut), while the last one details a robbery that is often spoken about but never shown. I was glad to be able to see these scenes, though I can understand why they were cut. Next up is a multi-angle music video for Cuisin’, as sung by Paltrow and Lewis. This is actually pretty cool – the first angle allows you to see Paltrow and Lewis actually recording the song, while the second is behind-the-scenes footage of the filming of it, and the last is the finished product. You also have the option of watch the final music video, which incorporates footage from all three. Next is an eight-minute featurette entitled “Conversations with Bruce Paltrow” and the title describes it pretty well. This is just eight minutes of Paltrow talking about everything from his bout with throat cancer early on in the production to the casting of his daughter. This is interesting, although quite frustrating as they show a lot of behind-the-scenes clips as he is speaking. It might have been nice for some of this stuff to be included in a separate featurette. Finally, there’s also a commentary from director Paltrow and a producer. This is semi-interesting, though there are a number of gaps when both men just watch the movie. There are a few nuggets to be had here – such as the initial casting of Brad Pitt in Speedman’s role (he dropped out after he and Gwyneth split) – but this is otherwise a lukewarm commentary track.
Conclusion: Duets is far more enjoyable than one might imagine, mostly due to the star-making performance by Paul Giamatti.
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