This week at the multiplex we have a slob comedy and a swank corporate espionage thriller; they're both pretty good and if you can't get into one, you'll have a fine enough time at the other.
I Love You, Man takes an over-familiar premise and inverts it. In Judd Apatow movies like Knocked Up, a child-man enters into a grown-up relationship with a woman and has to face up to adult responsibilities — which means balancing buddydom and domesticity, a classic theme since Diner. The gimmick here is a protagonist, Peter Klaven, played by Paul Rudd, who's slightly effeminate, mature to a fault, engaged to a woman, and who doesn't have close male friends — which won't make for much of a swinging bachelor party. He needs what the movie calls "man dates."
The question of hetero man-love is central to I Love You, Man. What do these filmmakers think it really is? It's unresolved, but a clue comes in writer-director John Hamburg's so-so 2004 comedy Along Came Polly in which a squeamish Ben Stiller plays basketball with large shirtless men and finds his face mashed up against a wobbly, sweaty, hairy, moley man-belly. Very peculiar, this horror over physical contact with males. I Love You, Man gestures broadly toward the notion of homosexual panic. Peter has a gay brother played by Andy Samberg, so the issue is in the air. Then Jason Segel's big, unkempt Sydney Fife lumbers into one of realtor Peter's open houses for the free food, and they bond over Sydney's scrutiny of male body language.
Segel is a howl and Sydney a fascinating enigma. Is he a finance wiz or a conman? An easygoing Lothario or a twisted freak? Is he closeted? The movie finally ducks the question. But it does give Rudd his breakout role; the actor uses his soft face to generate an astounding amount of sympathy. Watch him miss high fives and mangle attempts to add "bro" or "dude" to sentences, then wince in horror at the lameness of such lines as hey "Von Duderino."
Over on the other screen, Clive Owen in the corporate con-game thriller Duplicity does better with banter. Here he is meeting up with Julia Roberts after she seduced him five years earlier — or did she?
Roberts is coming off a disastrous Broadway debut and she's tight — even more self-protective than usual. But that works, because she's a CIA agent turned corporate double agent, and we're not sure what she really thinks. Does she fall for Owen's character or is she playing him? If Duplicity were a David Mamet movie, you'd have no doubt, but writer-director Tony Gilroy is half conspiracy theorist, half romantic. And if anyone could break through Roberts' tense mask, it's the wolfish yet needy Owen. All his emotions are on the surface — and in her face.
The plot revolves around rival corporations with CEOs played by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson who have a crazy hatred for each other and want to steal each other's secrets. Gilroy goes in for split screens and a blasting score and does loop-de-loops with the syntax. There's an overture, then it's five years later, then two years earlier, then next week. It's a brainteaser: You don't see the big picture until the end.
Much of Duplicity is laborious, and you can't figure out if you're supposed to root for Roberts and Owen — who are, after all, thieves. But the disorientation itself is fun. With all the scoundrels in the markets it's nice to get conned and not lose more than ten bucks plus popcorn.