Once again, audiences are asked to laugh at Ben Stiller being tortured on screen,and again, audiences are willing to oblige.
“Duplex” tells the story of bohemian young couple Nancy Hendricks (Drew Barrymore) and Alex Rose (Ben Stiller) who buy a duplex in Brooklyn to begin their family in. But to get the low price offered, they have to take on a tenant, the sweet Irish lady upstairs Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essel) who at the beginning of the movie seems to be knocking on the door of death. Seeing only potential and hoping for a quick passing for Mrs. Connelly, Nancy and Alex move in.
The beginning of the film has an odd feel, seemingly reimagining “The Burbs” or “The Money Pit.” But then it really falls into its comedic groove when the crafty old Mrs. Connelly starts making life hell for our cute couple.
As Alex strives to finish his novel by his publisher’s deadline, Mrs. Connelly keeps interrupting by helplessly asking, as as an old lady can, if he could help her with her chores. A series of household accidents forces the frequent return of a mean NYPD officer. The madness drives the initially very rational Nancy and Alex to fantasize about killing the old lady. Their conspiratorial efforts to get rid of her keep going bad and the two begin destroying more and more of their apartment.
Barrymore and Stiller form an exceptional duo. Watching them ride hand in hand down the path of insanity is truly funny. Barrymore is a perfect complement to Stiller in a rehashing of his “Meet the Parents” role. She’s able to go right along with him for every hellish twist. Essel plays the perfect torturer; appearing harmless, but is actually quite funny and ingenuous in tearing her landlords apart. Her character is by far the best in the film.
Director Danny DeVito and writer Larry Doyle have put together a new spin on a concept that initially appears very familiar to audiences. After a series of misfires for both, it’s refreshing to see Barrymore and DeVito doing good work again.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars