Julia Roberts and Clive Owen are grown-ups having a grown-up romance in the grown-up caper comedy Duplicity, a movie that is just not-grown-up enough to still have some giddy fun.
Because, really, Roberts and Owen play spies and there’s nothing grown-up about spies unless you’re talking about the paperwork and daily grind of the tertiary characters in a movie like the F.B.I. counterintelligence procedural Breach but then where’s the romance in that.
It’s hard to tell the story of this movie in a linear manner because the movie does not unfold in a completely linear fashion. It does begin somewhere near the beginning when Ray Koval (Clive Owen) of MI6 and Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) of the C.I.A. meet (not knowing each other’s affiliations) at a garden party in Dubai. They flirt, they make eyes over drinks and before you can say “take your shirt off, Clive Owen” Claire has knocked Ray out and is searching his hotel room for whatever.
Later, they meet again when Ray, now a civilian, is running a security organization for a company run by Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti). And Claire is working for their corporate blood-enemy, a company run by Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson). Ray is looking for a person who he thinks will be a mole to help with a little corporate espionage and sees Claire, the woman who endangered his career all those years ago. He is horrified to find out that they will be working together on this operation.
Or is he? Maybe, they met again before that. Maybe the Garsik versus Tully battle over some top secret new product Tully is going to launch isn’t the cause of a chance meeting between old adversaries but an opportunity for two people who have specific and complementary skills.
This is about the amount of information that the trailers give you and this plus the bouncy little Ocean’s Eleven-ish music and the adult sexiness of Owen and Roberts really is a good sense of what this movie delivers. The plot is twisted, the mood is very gin gimlet, the characters are very antagonistically attracted. It is exactly the kind of tart cocktail you’re hoping for when you enter the theater and if it sort of effervesces away minutes after it’s over, well, don’t most of the tastiest drinks do that?
I and everyone else on the planet can’t help but talk about the maturity of the leads. Roberts is 41, Owen is 46 — it’s not like 40somethings are such rare, nearly-extinct creatures. But if you regularly watch romantic movies, you won’t see them on the screen. Maybe now and then as a sassy friend or to serve as a lesson for what not to do, but rarely as mature people, saying things with maturity and falling in love without that kind of corn-syrupy rom-com behavior that is perhaps best described as the Kate Hudson Syndrome.
It’s so lovely to see these characters rat-a-tat at each other with barbs that are bemusedly weary instead of aggressively self-conscious. They are both attractive in a kind of non-phony, I-am-my-age kind of way. Roberts dresses like a woman, Owen dresses a little more guy-like. But there’s nothing silly or teenager-ish about their manners or the way the characters carry themselves. Sure, they’re vulnerable, but just enough to really make us like them.
Duplicity isn’t quite as much fun as the Ocean’s Eleven it calls to mind but it’s still plenty mind-twisting and fun with characters that might be just a touch too prickly to be called “likeable” but are thoroughly agreeable to be around. It is delightful, roller-coaster-ride escapism. You know, for grown-ups. B
Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content. Written and directed by Tony Gilroy, Duplicity is two hours and five minutes long and distributed in wide release by Universal Pictures.