Karaoke is the work of the devil. It is Japan's way of inflicting pain and suffering upon America; retribution for the many wrongs committed by America. In this strange subculture, there is an even smaller, oxymoronic segment of professional amateurs who travel the country trying to win karaoke contests. They don't even get their fifteen minutes of fame. The songs only last about three minutes. Duets marks the first time the father and daughter team of Bruce and Gwyneth Paltrow worked together in a film. Thankfully, mother Blythe Danner and brother Jake Paltrow stayed away.
The movie uses karaoke as a device for instituting change in the lives of its six principals, split into three pairs. Ricky Dean (Huey Lewis, Short Cuts) is a karaoke hustler. He walks into bars feigning ignorance, and walks away with the prize money. He discovered that he has a daughter, dim-witted but earnest Liv (Paltrow, Bounce, The Talented Mr. Ripley). He is doing his best to ignore her, but she is following him around. Taxicab driver Billy Hannon (Scott Speedman, Felicity) discovered his girlfriend was cheating on him. He is looking to escape anywhere, and when Suzi Loomis (Maria Bello, Payback, Coyote Ugly), a karaoke regular entreats him for a ride, he accepts. Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti, Private Parts, Man on the Moon) is also looking to escape his Dilbert-like life. He discovers karaoke a feels a rush, and meets Reggie Kane (Andre Braugher, City of Angels, ABC's Gideon's Crossing), who joins him. All six eventually converge in Omaha, the site of a karaoke tournament with a $5,000 purse.
The gimmick here is that all the actors use their own voices (except for Speedman, who doesn't sing in the movie). It isn't as bad as people may think. None of the singing is horrible. And, with the exception of Lewis, none of the singing is really great. In other words, these actors should keep their day jobs. The main problem is that there are six people. Writer John Byrum (The Razor's Edge) and director Paltrow (St. Elmo's Fire, The White Shadow) spread things too thinly. There is little time for character development. Each person has their one characteristic that distinguishes them from everyone else. Liv is happy to be with her father. Ricky is indifferent towards Liv. Giamatti and Braugher's characters have the most depth, but their male bonding adventure is a little too strange and far-fetched to fully appreciate, though Giamatti's quest to redeem 800,000 frequent flyer miles is funny.
Each person uses karaoke to escape from something, whether is it their job, the police, personal responsibility, or low self-esteem. It is simple way to ignore more important things in their lives. When they do confront their issues, nothing spectacular happens. The lack of development and the constant switching between stories gives audiences little time to place any emotional investment in the stories. All the stories seem to move along before wrapping up abruptly near the end. Moreover, the stories are conventional and not too compelling. Aside from the novelty of watching actors sing, there is not much in Duets to keep people occupied.
|Haro Rates It: Not That Good.|
|1 hour, 53 minutes, Rated R for language and some sexuality.|
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