13 March 2005 | FilmOtaku
Not great, but entertaining and well worth it to see Braugher and Giamatti in action
Bruce Paltrow's film "Duets" basically centers on the relationships of vastly different people who all end up at a karaoke contest in Omaha. Liv (Paltrow) meets her dad Ricky (Lewis) for the first time at her mother's funeral. Ricky is a "karaoke hustler", a guy who walks into various competitions and not only wins the cash prize, but manages to get a sucker to bet on which of them is going to win. Ricky reluctantly lets Liv tag along with him on the circuit, and along with singing herself, she also tries to forge a relationship with her father. Todd (Giamatti) is a salesman who travels most of the year and comes home to a house where his children don't talk to him and his wife would rather spend time online than talk to him after one of his business trips. One day he has a "moment of clarity" and decides to use some of the 800,000 frequent flier miles he has racked up, taking off in his car and driving anywhere but near his home. The first night he gets a room, he walks into a hotel bar and is convinced to get up on stage for their karaoke night, where he finds he loves the freedom it allows and the attention it garners him. Along the way on his trek, he picks up a hitchhiker named Reggie (Braugher) a recent parolee with the voice of an angel, and the two strike up a very close friendship despite (or possibly because of) their many differences. Finally, there is Suzi (Bello), a drifter who travels her way to karaoke contests by eschewing all dignity and selling any part of her she can. At a stopover in Cincinnati, she encounters Billy (Speedman) a former seminary student who is now a gypsy cab driver that just discovered his girlfriend sleeping with his business partner. Bello convinces him to take her to California, but along the way, the lure of the $5,000 purse in Omaha gets the best of her and they make a stop there.
"Duets" features several story lines, but other than karaoke, they all have one thing in common: They are all unhappy with either their past, their present or the prospect of a bleak or uncertain future. The film really isn't all that good, but there are a couple of good things about it. First and foremost, the chemistry between Giamatti and Braugher is fantastic. Completely casting aside the fact that they are two of my favorite actors, their connection was practically tangible. Hey, who knew Giamatti could sing, too? The rest of the stories were pretty clichéd or just not very compelling at all. I wasn't sure where they were trying to go with the Suzi/Billy arc but it ended up going nowhere for me personally. Huey Lewis, nothing more than a marginally average actor does an okay job in this film, but it obviously isn't much of a stretch for him.
If you are not a fan of any of the actors, "Duets" is entertaining enough to sit through and not end up hating yourself afterward. Personally, the film deserves a slight edge because of the Giamatti/Braugher thing, but altogether, it gets a 6/10. In this case I'm rounding up from 5.5 for that edge.