I don’t mind dark comedies, I’ve seen a lot of them, some of them have been really good (Serial Mom, War of the Roses), and then there are the dark comedies that just shouldn’t be made (Death to Smoochy). “Duplex” is another one of them. With a plot right off of a sitcom, and with a script written with such a mean spirit and sense of disgust, we meet young couple Alex Rose (Ben Stiller) and Nancy Kendricks (Drew Barrymore). The two up and comers are nitpicking looking for a house. After a really cheesy set-up from director Danny Devito, the two finally stumble upon a really old but beautiful house which they discover has two floors and the second floor is being lived in by a little old woman Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essel) who is a seemingly sweet lady but cannot be kicked out because she’s on rent control.
She seems to befriend the two at first, but then becomes a nuisance asking for favors, knocking on their door repeatedly, playing her television really loud, and watching them have sex. Suffice it to say she’s becoming annoying, the couple are getting annoyed really quickly, but they never manage to convince us that she’s so annoying we’d want to kill her, yet the couple do, and soon get so desperate they hire a man to do their dirty work and start trying to find ways to get rid of her resorting to violent pranks. Most of this would really make for some laugh out loud material, but alas everything goes wrong here. We’re supposed to sympathize for the main characters and dislike the old woman, but the way the story works out here, it ends up reversing. First, we have Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore who have no chemistry as a couple whatsoever and just aren’t believable when it comes to attempted romance. They try though and have their own attempts at comedy, but we’re supposed to feel for them, but we would, if they weren’t such despicable horrible people.
Stiller is a self-indulgent obnoxious author who just wants to write his book but must put up with the old lady’s antics. He’s bland here and when he tries to be funny, it just doesn’t work for him. I’m a fan of Stiller’s and I just couldn’t figure out what he’s doing here giving no funny dialogue and resorting to really overdone physical comedy like slipping and falling and doing his usual double takes. Barrymore, meanwhile, is probably the worst character in the film as the irritating and really idiotic Nancy who works at a publishing house and uses such idiotic terms while never really giving a damn about the old woman in the beginning. She seems very cocky and self-assured while Barrymore plays her with no appeal and very little comedic ability. Barrymore should really stop trying to do comedy, because she just can’t pull it off.
There were times she looked like she tried really hard to perform comedy with ridiculous faces and falling, and an even more ridiculous pratfall after getting electrocuted that just never registered with me as comedy. It’s safe to assume these two just aren’t good here, and made the film more miserable than it was in the first place. The visual jokes shoot pretty quickly but they’re the usual violent routine and desperate attempts at humor, and they put out all the stops to get a laugh from the audience. Pratfalls yet again, goofy faces, physical comedy courtesy of Stiller, a botched assassination on the old woman, and some really really disgusting sequences that are just nauseating including Stiller’s attempts to get a cold to spread to the old woman, when the old woman begins to gag on a chocolate, and the worst when Stiller is forced to fix the old woman’s sink and something backfires, I’ll just leave it at that.
Don’t watch this movie while eating, because there are some genuinely disgusting sequences. While the desperate attempts at comedy run thin, the story is very predictable. We know these two people are unaware of the trouble they have on their hands, we know they’re going to get frustrated, we know they’re going to strike back at her unsuccessfully, and we know inevitably they’ll do the right thing. Had the film taken an unconventional route with such a dark tone, perhaps it would have been decent to watch, but in this we’re unable to connect to any character here, we have zero fun at the crude and flat humor, and everything is just despicable. A crude, disgusting, irritating, mean-spirited and unfunny dark comedy that properly wastes the talents of Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore who hams it up trying to match Stiller.