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MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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As a director, Danny DeVito has a weakness for black comedies, such as War of the Roses and Death to Smoochy. As a producer he’s helped along some interesting films like Pulp Fiction and Gattaca. Even as a walk-on actor he’s always memorable, whether from his early work on One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest or the tv series Taxi and onward.

In sum, with DeVito a viewer can actually have expectations – and wherever these are set, after screening his latest film, these can be lowered a notch.

Annoying Neighbors

DeVito offers not black comedy, but PG-13 gray
DeVito offers not black comedy, but PG-13 gray

Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore star as Alex and Nancy, a young married couple who move into a Brooklyn apartment that is spacious and in their price range — it is even a duplex. The rub is that there is an old lady living above them who is firmly ensconced and who enjoys rent-control, so that when Alex and Nancy become her new landlords, all they get is some eighty-plus dollars every month.

This financial shortcoming becomes the least of their problems compared to a growing list of annoying habits that their elderly tenant soon inflicts upon them, so that the animosity builds to a delirious level and soon the action goes over-the-top.

DeVito moves the story along at a nice pace. Stiller has good comic timing and is usually enjoyable, but his performance here would have benefitted from more quips and less slapstick. Barrymore’s character never quite rises from the background. The elderly tenant, Mrs. Connely (Eileen Essel), is appropriately eccentric and annoying.

The only real surprise is that Mrs. Connely’s character actually gets a bit of sympathy as both Alex and Nancy become more ruthless in their endeavors.

Chasing the coveted teen demographic, the PG-13 pitch for Duplex keeps it from being a black comedy and makes it more of a middle shade of gray.

Picture and Sound

Picture and sound quality for the DVD are both sharp and top notch. The surround sound benefits from the little noises and activities brought in from all sides as our hapless duo suffers as much from what they hear as what they see.

DVD Extras

Added features include a “behind-the-scenes” special, mostly fluff, and three deleted scenes, which feel like rightfully trimmed fat. French and Spanish subtitles can be accessed, and a bonus fullscreen dvd is also included in the package.

Duplex is passable entertainment, but it simply doesn’t have the laughs of other Stiller-starring comedies, such as Flirting with Disaster or Meet the Parents. It also lacks the bite that DeVito’s work shows when he’s not held back by the constraints of a PG-13 rating. Death to Smoochy may have been box-office poison reviled by many critics, but it didn’t hold its punches and had an acerbic humor with strong appeal to a few. Duplex, on the other hand, will have a bland appeal to a wider audience, but is less interesting because of it.