on September 15, 2000 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   Utterly misconceived and completely unbelievable, "Duets" is an embarrassment for all concerned. Based on the dubious premise that karaoke is a way of life, as one character puts it, the movie brings together an unlikely group of people who compete for a $5,000 purse at a big karaoke contest in Omaha, Nebraska.

   Singer Huey Lewis is a hustler who ends up performing with the daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow) he didn't know he had. Scott Speedman ("Felicity") is the slacker cabbie who hooks up with a tough waitress (Maria Bello), who browbeats him into driving her across country. And Paul Giamatti is the salesman who walks away from his stressful life and meets up with an escaped convict (Andre Braugher) who loves to sing.

   The characters are farfetched and so is the movie, which plays like "Flashdance" without the style. It's a plodding, dull and frequently idiotic tale whose best acting comes from a non-actor, namely Lewis. That says a lot about how director Bruce Paltrow directs his cast, with his daughter Gwyneth in particular hitting a career low as a bimbo who just wants to be happy. Gwyneth doesn't do dumb well. And Braugher is too good an actor to have to essay such a stereotyped individual. Speedman is dull and Giamatti, whose persona is the most over the top, also has to deliver the film's most vapid dialogue, something about ridding America of consumerism, strip malls and fast food. Maybe so, but "Duets" is as disposable as anything it attacks.

   Basically, the film seems slapped together, lacks energy and a coherent point of view. Reportedly, Paltrow was forced to edit out the film's violence by the studio. While he was at it, he should have continued on and just excised the entire movie. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman. Directed by Bruce Paltrow. Written by John Byrum. Produced by Kevin Jones, Bruce Paltrow and John Byrum. A Buena Vista Release. Drama. Rated R for some violence, sexuality and language. Running time: 112 min

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