While not exactly a complete reversal after the utterly awful "Death to Smoochy", "Duplex" is still a bit of an improvement after Danny Devito's last directorial effort. The obvious inspiration here is Devito's "War of the Roses", but unfortunately, Devito goes only somewhat as dark here before stepping back a few steps (the picture is rated PG-13).
The film follows young couple Alex (Ben Stiller) and Nancy (Drew Barrymore), who have begun their search for a place of their own. They think they've found just the place when they are shown a beautiful Brooklyn duplex. Nancy thinks it's the perfect place to start a family, while Alex believes that it'll be a quiet enough place to finish his second novel.
Ah, but - as one might expect - there's a catch: an old lady named Mrs. Connely lives in the upstairs apartment. Alex and Nancy want the upstairs apartment, but they can't have it until the old lady passes away. While the old lady seems rather ill upon their first meeting, she suddenly has a rapid turnaround when her new neighbors move in.
Things don't go as expected - Mrs. Connely has Alex doing chores for her all day, so instead of getting chapters done on his new book, he manages to get pages. Neither can fall asleep at night, since the old lady leaves her television on at night. She calls Alex "Alan" and is locked into paying her new landlords only $88 a month in rent. When she innocently asks Alex for an autograph in her recently purchased copy of his new novel, he opens the cover to find a 99 cent sticker inside.
As funny as the occasional bit in "Duplex" is, I couldn't help but feel that this was essentially a one-joke picture. Mrs. Connely manipulates her way into the lives of her neighbors, who grow consistently more irritated with the old woman until they contemplate more forceful ways of evicting her. There's a few great gags and funny moments scattered throughout "Duplex", but the film is really just that - a series of bits. While some work, more don't.
Barrymore and Stiller have chemistry with one another, but they aren't terribly believable when they escalate their anger towards their new neighbor. Eileen Essel is amusing as an old woman who is very nice on the outside, yet just may hide a kernel of evil underneath. While tight at about 97 minutes and containing a few good gags, the jokes remain inconistent and the story rather thin.
VIDEO: "Duplex" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame on this 2-DVD set. The anamorphic widescreen edition gets its own dual-layered disc, while the pan & scan edition is on a single-layer disc of its own. The picture quality of the anamorphic widescreen presentation was generally quite good, considering this is a (surprisingly) dark-looking film. Other than one outdoor scene towards the end that seemed unusually soft, sharpness and definition seemed pretty good, considering the film's rather low-key lighting.
SOUND: "Duplex" is presented by Miramax in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack delivers the expected activity on the soundtrack - in other words, not too much. Surrounds did kick in on a couple of occasions to deliver a sound effect or two and some ambience, but the mix was otherwise front-heavy. Audio quality was fine, with clean and clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: All that's offered are three deleted scenes and a brief "making of" featurette.
Final Thoughts: "Duplex" delivered a couple of good laughs and I liked Barrymore and Stiller together. Still, there's a few too many stretches where the film's attempts at dark humor (or just humor in general) fall flat and overall, "Duplex" doesn't leave much of an impression. The film's DVD edition provides fine audio/video quality, but little in the way of supplemental features. Lightly recommended as a rental.
The Film **