Review Date: September 24, 2003
Director: Danny DeVito
Writer: Larry Doyle
Producers: Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore
A happy-go-lucky New York married couple move into a quiet duplex with an old lady as their upstairs tenant. Word on the street is that the aging woman would be dying soon and that they would then be able to take over the entire house, but not only does she not die, she also starts to make their lives a living hell. Who will survive to claim the house as their own?
A mediocre offering made palatable by the always-funny presence of Ben Stiller giving us his best Stiller-isms, the dark, humorous moments sprung from the sweet, yet easily hateable, performance by first-time movie actress Eileen Essel, as well as its quick pace and ripe-for-conflict, yet "been there, seen that before" premise. In fact, if you want to see the basic nature of this film but in a better movie, go out and rent two of DeVito's previous directorial gigs in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN and THE WAR OF THE ROSES (note how Stiller's last name here is Rose) or THE MONEY PIT starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long (yes, that Shelley Long!), which also deals with a couple and their first-home troubles, but in that case, having more to do with the house itself and not an unruly tenant. But yes, despite this film's unoriginality of plot and overall forgettable nature, I did surprisingly laugh quite a number of times during my screening especially during any scene in which Stiller got angry, looked pathetic, confused or got the shaft. The one that cracked me up the most featured Stiller fixing a faucet in the spinstress' apartment and receiving a little more than he expected in return. Quite gross actually. Barrymore was also decent as the straight wife, although I'm not sure if her face was purposely over-padded with white powder or not, but she looked about as pasty as my ass after an ice-cold shower. Less make-up does the body good, honey. The jewel in this film was definitely the old woman though, who despite being a rookie at the acting game, came off surprisingly well and really gave you a sense of typical "grammy" sweetness, while slowly, but surely, burrowing underneath the skin. The rest of the cast, all of whom were secondary characters, were grandly underused.
DeVito also did a decent job of directing the picture, but I would have liked to have seen more of his stylized trademark camera swings and angles (there's only one cool-ass slow-motion shot of Stiller jumping and clapping here-- which is actually quite hilarious as well) The film also moved at a wicked pace and at less than 90 minutes in length, was very easy to digest. If you're expecting another all-out "black comedy"...don't, because this film really has a lot more "fluffy" humor than dark. It does get a little more sinister near the end, but even then, it's nothing like THE WAR OF THE ROSES. One thing that I did very much despise about the film was its final revelation which not only was a "cheap shot" at best, but almost ruined the entire story for me. I'm not even sure why they felt the need to tack it on...it was mucho unrealistic and made everything that came before it seem less believable. And don't get me started on how Drew got fired from her job...puhleeeeze!!! (don't editors double-check their employees' work before going to print?) Anyway, besides those little gaffs, the basic premise and plot points in this film worked pretty well. It's far from being the most creative or comical film of the year, but if disposable entertainment is what you're craving over the weekend, a movie that won't ask you to think much while you're watching or discuss anything about it afterwards, expect a hearty number of laughs with DUPLEX, another great turn by Stiller and a cute old lady wreaking havoc all around. The film would actually work just as well on home video one night, but I guess that's up to you to decide.
(c) 2015 Berge Garabedian