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Tuesday, 31 October, 2000, 13:49 GMT
Duets
Gwyneth  Paltrow and in the overplayed Duets
Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis and in the overplayed Duets
By the BBC's William Gallagher

Director: Bruce Paltrow Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Huey Lewis, Paul Giamatti, Andre Braugher


Gwyneth Paltrow does a star turn in the new karaoke movie Duets and shows a new competency at singing, if not a new skill.

Yet while she's good, her role is so inconsequential that it's hard for her to shine and the film feels like an unpolished and even unfinished television movie.

What's peculiar is that in the five years it to took to make, the major cast and crew have made exceptional television - excluding Gwyneth but definitely including her father and Duets director/producer Bruce Paltrow.

Gwyneth Paltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow is competent in her role but fails to shine

From ER to Felicity and Homicide: Life on the Street, this team is used to stylish realism and deftly underplayed scripts that would have worked here.

Duets is a stock television format with an ensemble cast slowly being drawn together, in this case through a common pursuit of karaoke and a contest prize of $5,000 (3,491).

Where ER would have done it fast, Duets crawls through its long set-up. And where Homicide has sparse dialogue that tells you volumes, Duets assumes that you need cue cards just like the actors do.

Staccato

There are six main characters in Duets. Their slow pairing off, creating three main stories, is typical in television, but rare in films.

Paul Giamatti (left) with the film's shining star Andre Braugher
Paul Giamatti (left) with the film's shining star Andre Braugher

In this film the effect is disconnected. There's never a sense of why you're leaving one story for the next.

The joins are smoothed over by the singing which - as these characters are supposed to be competing for a top prize - is always good and sometimes exceptional.

A combination of tracks pre-recorded by the actors is seamlessly blended with the singing on set. Gwyneth Paltrow is easily a match for one-time pop singer Huey Lewis.

Andre Braugher gets an additional and elaborate electronic mixing of his own voice with that of background singer Arnold McCuller and the result is tremendous.

Unpredictable

The film's almost Blues Brothers-like end sequence is an ending that ought to mark out why film can have a greater scope than television.

Scott Speedman and Maria Bello
Scott Speedman and Maria Bello play unlikely friends Billy and Suzi

While we don't especially care for any of the characters, we realise we're meant to, and that does make the final karaoke contest unpredictable.

It's difficult to see how the film can justify any one character beating the others and this should be the message of the film.

Yet the audience is left with a residue rather than a conclusion.

Duets is screened at the LFF on 14 November and opens in the UK on 1 December

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See also:

08 Aug 00 | Entertainment
Gwyneth reveals Brad split heartbreak
12 Apr 99 | Entertainment
Shakespeare and Elizabeth dominate Baftas
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