Duets is a road-trip comedy which revolves around the little known world of karaoke and the whimsical characters who inhabit it. There's the struggling singer who dreams of making it to the big time, a frustrated salesman who ends up on an unexpected road trip, the dysfunctional family performers which includes a con-artist and his long lost daughter, and an escaped convict with the voice of an angel. All roads lead to Omaha, site of a national karaoke competition where this motley group of singers and stars come together for a blow-out sing-off. Written by
DUETS takes an interesting and unusual cast of character actors, mixes them up and puts them in a film where groups of characters will all meet up by the end. Instead of it being a political rally like in the Robert Altman classic NASHVILLE, the gathering is a karaoke contest in Topeka, Kansas. It seems that director Bruce Paltrow in stepping into the shoes of Robert Altman, but his results aren't as satisfying. There are three different stories in DUETS, which switch back and forth between each other, instead of making them into segments. The first story is about a father-daughter relationship. Ricky Dean (Huey Lewis) is a con artist who cons suckers into making a bet on who can sing better at karaoke, and Ricky usually wins. Ricky finds out that his ex-wife, or ex-lover (the story doesn't really explain) has just passed away and he meets Liv (Gwyneth Paltrow) a young woman who happens to be his daughter. Ricky heads off to Topeka to compete in the karaoke contest, with Liv following him, against his wishes. It turns out that Liv is quite a singer herself, and impresses Ricky. The second story deals with a workaholic man name Todd (Paul Giamatti). Todd goes from city to city and staying in different hotels so often that he forgets what city he is in. When Todd is at home in surban California he decides to go for drive to get some cigarettes, and keeps on drivng, to Santa Fe. There he is persuaded by a pretty young woman to give karaoke a shot. He does and he loves it, he loves it so much that he changes his attitude, from stiff-shirted to free minded. Todd then picks up a hitchhiker, Reggie (Andre Braugher) a criminal on the run who winds up singing karaoke with Todd to hide from the authorities. The third story deals with a young aspiring cab company owner in Cleveland (Scott Speedman) who after catching his wife sleeping with his best friend, decides to drink his worries away. At one of the bars, he meets Suzi (Maria Bello) a young and pretty woman who wants to become a professional singer, and she'll do anything without regret (including sexual acts) to become famous. In fact, Suzi will do sexual acts just to avoid paying for things. By the end of the film all of these people meet in Topeka and the climax isn't that exciting. I found DUETS to be a film that has great acting. All of the cast, including Huey Lewis, Gwyneth Paltrow and Paul Giamaiit to be enjoyable. If I said it once, I'll say it again, Huey Lewis isn't only an underrated singer, but also an underrated actor. You don't believe me, then see Robert Altman's SHORT CUTS and see for yourself. But what ruins DUETS is it's plot and plot structure. It's all too familar. DUETS appears to be a film that Robert Altman would consider to be too "commercial" so Bruce Paltrow takes over to make a too typical film. And even if the plot structure isn't like Altman, the plots of the multiple characters come out like a movie made for t.v. What's pretty amazing is that all of the actors are pretty darn good singers (except for Andre Braugher, which is reported to have a voice over for his singing). Gwyneth Paltrow takes her acting to a new level by becoming a singer, and she is a good singer. I'm thinking that former beau Brad Pitt is intimidated by now that the girl he made famous by dating her didn't only win a Oscar, but is a good singer. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why a distinguished actress like Gwyneth Paltrow decided to star in this film (look at her last name and the director's). Paul Giamatti who is a very enjoyable character actor in HOWARD STERN'S PRIVATE PARTS, THE NEGOTIATOR, and THE TRUMAN SHOW shows off his talent further by being another good singer. And Maria Bello, who was recently in both PAYBACK and COYOTE UGLY shows that she too can carry a tune. But when you put these actors up along with Huey Lewis, it's like having amateur dancers dance aside with Fred Astire or Gene Kelly. In other words Huey Lewis does stand out with his singing, you just want to hear him sing more songs for the rest of the movie. But of couse, Paltrow wants to carry on with the story which makes it muddle. Overall, DUETS does have good acting, and good singing. But it's the plot that makes it an unimpressive film. If Bruce Paltrow changed the plot structure, the character's, and add some unexpected surprises , it would have been more interesting, but it isn't. The best way to describe DUETS is this: DUETS is like karaoke, we all know the words, it's just sung in a different way. *** (out of five)
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