on September 26, 2003 by Dan DiClerico
The title sequence to "Duplex" is animated enough, but then again it's a cartoon, as a one-dimensional Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore travel the world looking for their first home. This might have been a better movie had it ended there, but, alas, the animation fades to real just as the weary couple comes upon the dream: a Brooklyn brownstone with fireplaces, stained glass and enough hardwood to pave a gym. Here, no doubt, Stiller's Alex Rose will finish the novel. Here, Barrymore's Nancy Kendricks will collapse after long, hard days at the glossy mag. Then, later, babies.

Of course, this being a romantic comedy, there's a catch. Enter Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essell), the 80-something lodger upstairs (remember, it's a duplex). If director Danny DeVito meant to reveal her nefariousness by degrees...well, then, he was a way better taxi dispatcher. Sweet little old ladies may be little and they may be old, but they are never sweet. So, without even a drop of dramatic build-up, we're cast headlong into a cat-and-mouse contest of wills. She plays her TV too loud, he hooks it up to "the clapper." She figures out "the clapper"; they try to kill her off with a deadly flu virus. So on and so forth, all against a New York backdrop so tiny it doesn't even look like Toronto.

This is not to say that "Duplex" never once entertains. Stiller's feckless male routine, though a bit tired, has its moments of fun. Barrymore, meanwhile, seems comfortable in the part of newlywed ingenue. Throw in Harvey Fierstein as the haughty real estate agent and Justin Theroux as the self-wrapped mystery writer and "Duplex" has enough to keep you seated for its manageable 90 minutes. But then, chances are, you'll be ready to move out. Starring Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore and Eileen Essell. Directed by Danny DeVito. Written by Larry Doyle. Produced by Ben Stiller, Stuart Cornfeld, Jeremy Kramer, Nancy Juvonen and Drew Barrymore. A Miramax release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and some violence. Running time: 90 min

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