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Duets (November 4/01)

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.

out of

© David Nusair