as reviewed by Skylaire Alfvegren
As a native of Los Angeles, it’s easy to forget that there’s a vast and extremely white country just east of the freeway, simply bursting with millions of middling Caucasians. While not free of such detestable creatures, LA is the great and ridiculous melting pot that Bill Clinton has envisioned the rest of the country becoming. Consequently, we get all the international trends first.
Karaoke was first unleashed in the East, and brought to our fair shores by well-meaning Asians. A staple of Korean-American, Chinese-American and Japanese-American entertainment before becoming a white, suburban past time, karaoke’s appeal knows no racial bounds. But Bruce Paltrow has managed to make it look stupidest on Whitey.
Duets, ostensibly a warm-hearted drama about intersecting karaoke grifters, should not only be rolled up like a puppy-puddled newspaper and batted on Paltrow’s nose, but is the biggest albatross of a nepotistic, Hollywood vanity project in recent memory.
Paltrow’s Academy Award-winning daughter Gwyenth feigns mild retardation as a Vegas teen who summons her dead-beat dad to her mother’s funeral. Dad makes a living competing in karaoke competitions all over the country, and reluctantly takes the girl to the big competition in Omaha.
The first hour is spent introducing their fellow competitors, but fails, gloriously, to give any of them anything but the most one-dimensional back story. Subsequently, you don’t know why anybody’s doing anything, and really couldn’t give a rat’s ass, anyway.
There’s Billy (Scott Speedman), the existentialist cab driver, and Suzi (Maria Bello), the self-hating whore who convinces him to drive her cross-country; there’s Todd (Paul Giametti), the beleaguered salesman, and Reggie (Andre Braugher), the escaped black con he picks up on the road.>
Duets’ only accomplishment is to convince you of the amazing transformative powers of karaoke, and it does a mediocre job of even that. Giametti’s salesman chucks his suburban hell and mousses his hair after discovering its high. He plays it completely deranged–his scenes with Braugher the only watchable ones in the whole movie.
Paltrow reduces a weird subculture to ridiculous lingo (“I scored some bennies from a shadow in a k joint”) and cliched moments–like a lone, fat Japanese salaryman mangling “What I Like About You.” Although the dialogue is priceless (“You sing like an angel, but you don’t know how to drive a car! That’s what’s wrong with this entire culture!”), the actors, with the exception of Giametti and Braugher, stumble around like mongoloids, making vague stabs against consumer culture and modern life.
When first pitched, Duets was to star Paltrow-the-younger and then-boy toy Brad Pitt, both of whom would now be hawking ab crunchers on infomericals had it been made. Luckily, Pitt avoided this monstrosity. Bruce Paltrow should be locked in a closet, as he probably was during Duets few well-directed scenes. He couldn’t direct traffic, let alone his own daughter. Avoid Duets at all costs.