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Starring Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore; Harvey Fierstein
Screenplay by Larry Doyle
Directed by Danny DeVito

IN SHORT: Du-dee. [Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and some violence. 90 minutes]

Ah, God, ya gotta love those yuppies. Wide eyed. Kind to their elders. Alex and Nancy (Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore). He's a writer just putting the finishing touches on his second novel. She's a page designer for NY-NY Magazine. With years of high income activity ahead of them, they listen closely when the real estate agent (Harvey Fierstein) steers them to the home of their dreams, a nineteenth century townhouse in beautiful Brooklyn, just chock full of detail you can't get in anything modern. Hand carved wood moldings. Original tile and art deco fixtures. Stained glass windows in the parlor. A book nook, perfect for Alex' writing hours. And twenty times the space they have in their Manhattan tenement studio apartment.

The only catch, and it's a small one (literally) is Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essell), the ancient and sickly upstairs tenant who may be as old as the townhouse. Mrs. Connelly cannot be forced out because of rent control, $88 paid in cash on the first of every month. Nancy calculates that Connelly is between 95 and 105, so how long can she last? They sign the papers, toast their good fortune and soon discover that Mrs. Connelly has "gotten better". In fact, she's got the constitution of a woman half her age and no intention to ever leave her apartment, regardless of what kind of money or relocation deal is offered to her.

Alex and Nancy, welcome to Hell.

We seem to get a "nightmare house buying" story at least once or twice a decade. Here we go again. We've seen the story play out with the house turning into a money pit. Or the tenant turning into a beast from hell. All we know is that this meek and pleasant couple are going to be pushed past the limits of decorum in their efforts to free themselves of the witch upstairs. Alex and Nancy do their best to be the good landlord.They agree to do small favors and chores for the feeble old lady. Those small favors, of course, turn out not to be small at all. As their relationship develops, Alex is convinced that the woman is a spiteful devil. He takes his laptop and heads to Starbucks to finish his book. Wife Nancy will later take up the day watch, for reasons we won't go into here. She, too, will be trampled by kindness.

The twist is hat the witch is nothing more than the kindly old lady she seems to be. Sure, she's a bit deaf and likes to watch telly at two in the morning. She stomps her feet like they were clubs and she sure knows how to turn a simple ten minute shopping trip into a four hour torture session. We'll say it again.

Alex and Nancy, welcome to Hell.

Duplex comes courtesy Danny DeVito whose previous productions have all put a sharp edge on all things whitebread. That edge is missing from Stiller and Barrymore's performances, even as the script escalates the attempted physical intimidation of the old lady (who has a strong arm police officer [] watching her back). There's a twist ending and a clue to it buried so deeply in the script that we only figured it out long after leaving the theater. Yes, our stars are cute as a button but Duplex falls into the category of films that always seem to be the second choice when you hit the box office. You know, just in case the bigger name starflick is sold out.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Duplex, he would have paid . . .


Duplex is a simple dateflick. Take One. Failing that, it'll work very well on the small screen for families with kidlets over ten or so.


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