Julia Roberts and Clive Owen radiate enough chemistry to blow up a lab in Tony Gilroy’s follow-up to Michael Clayton. Whereas that George Clooney-starrer left me a little cold, Roberts’s presence warms up Duplicity and the relationship between her and Owen makes it more playful. They’re certainly having fun lying to—and lying down with—each other and the energy is infectious.
The story revolves around C.I.A. agent Claire Stenwick (Roberts) and MI-6 operative Ray Koval (Owen) who hatch their own scheme of corporate espionage so they can get rich, get out and spend the rest of their lives having hot sex on fat piles of money (well, they didn’t say that exactly but that’s the gist). Their plan is to steal a valuable trade secret from one company and sell it to a competitor. Neither spy trusts the other but that’s what keeps them on their toes and at the top of their game. There are double and triple crosses and things are rarely as they seem. Don’t worry if you get confused, though, because the plot doesn’t really matter. It’s just an excuse for the two stars to bicker and flirt and for us to have a good time watching them.
Roberts is luminous as the wily Claire (is her last name a subtle homage to the great femme Barbara Stanwyck?) and her return to leading lady status is welcome. Hollywood keeps looking for the next Julia Roberts but this one is still as fetching as ever and she ain’t going anywhere. She saunters through the streets of Rome and New York City with a confident swagger powered by almost 20 years of superstardom. Motherhood has also added gravitas and sophistication to the once colt-like girl, making her even more compelling to watch.
Owen matches her in skill and sex appeal every step of the way, finally starring in a movie that takes full advantage of his smoldering charisma (Exhibit One: A scene with him walking around in only a towel). I saw this man in person once and the star power he exuded was enough to knock you back a few feet. But for whatever reason, he’s never had a huge hit to launch him into the same stratosphere as the Brad Pitts and Hugh Jackmans. Hopefully, Duplicity will do the trick so we can see Owen’s full, um, potential.
Director/writer Gilroy has given us an entertaining movie that proves a big studio product can still be smart. The formulas he uses, here and in the Jason Bourne movies, should be stolen and copied by other studios. They could make more money, audiences would be happier, and everybody wins.
Nerd Verdict: Smart, stylish, and sexy spy caper