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Dave: There have been those nights where you're out with your friends and you end up at the corner/roadhouse bar. It's not an ordinary bar, but a karaoke bar. Your friends encourage you to jump on stage and take the microphone just so they can simply goof on you at your expense. The curious karaoke subculture has gained popularity over the past decade, and it reflects the courage to stand up in front of strangers and face your fears in the form of embarrassment. Unfortunately, "Duets" presents a candid prospective that is more cold and romanticized, rather than showing the heart and soul it takes to stand up and let yourself be free of your fears.

Jeff: I have performed karaoke exactly twice in my life and both times it turned out to be one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I never claimed that I could sing "Ring of Fire" and I proved it. "Duets" is just as painful and just as hard on the eyes and ears. It's a silly and boring road trip about six strangers who come from different backgrounds, but all have the love of karaoke. If that doesn't sound ridiculous enough, each of the characters are written and performed as though they were all contestants on "The Gong Show" who never get gonged!

We have: A small-town singer (Maria Bello, fresh from "Coyote Ugly"); a cabdriver (Scott Speedman); a Las Vegas showgirl (Academy Award winner Gwyneth Paltrow) and a singing hustler (Huey Lewis).

The worst offender in the film is Paul Giamatti, as a hyper-yet-burned-out salesman who picks up an escaped convict (Andre Braugher) hitchhiking along the way. After bonding and attempting to rob a convenience store, they continue their journey to Omaha, Neb., to compete in the karaoke championships for a whopping $5,000. Yes, this is a real movie. Giamatti is not fully to blame. It's the awful script by John Byrum and his inexperienced dialogue that holds every talented actor in this film hostage with no chance for escape.

Dave: Watching this sing-alongfest was an absolute uphill climb, Jeff. I mean, where do you start with this ensemble cast of miserable characters who are no more engaging than the songs they sing? First, the only reason I can figure that the Oscar-blessed Paltrow could have been in this pic must have been due to her dear old dad, director Bruce Paltrow.

Nowhere do you see the quality behind her unquestionable talent as an actress as she sluggishly makes her way from scene to scene; nor is there any sense of father/daughter chemistry between her and rock 'n' roller-turned actor Lewis. He is a walking cardboard cutout whose familiar vocals hardly excuse his onscreen presence. And Jeff -- who is a closet fan of Huey Lewis and the News -- has to admit to that!

Jeff: Lewis can sing, but cannot act. He looked absolutely lost. I can't blame him -- I was lost myself. The simple fact is that none of the stories are interesting enough to keep your attention. Who would guess by the film's end they would all meet together and wrap up neatly into a bow. And, who would guess that the bow would be wrapped around your throat and cut off your air supply? I kept thinking of Woody Allen's "Everyone Says I Love You," where the cast each sang with their own voice (with exception of Drew Barrymore) and pulled it off. "Duets" wishes it could be as lucky. My final thought: Instead of watching "Duets," I'd rather be stuck in an elevator with Carrot Top. Either way I would win. "Duets" hits all the wrong notes.

Dave: Well, I guess that leaves me with the difficult task of finding one positive aspect about the film. Of the various stories that unfold throughout this bumpy road trip of a movie, Braugher (Emmy winner from the NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Streets") was the only shining actor who I actually found myself curious about. As an ex-con whose only wish is "the chance to do the things I never did, and should have," he brought a truth to his character that outweighed the entire film. His vocals are extraordinary, his reasons for searching for "freedom" are inspiring, but his fate in this story is an over-dramatic letdown. Let's just say that this pathetic, unfulfilling mess does more harm than justice to the popularity of karaoke. Overcome your fears, take to the stage and sing your favorite Barry Manilow tune, because believe me, witnessing "Duets" is more embarrassing than any one of you singing "At the Copa ... Copacabana!"

The Movie Guys, starring Jeff Howard and Dave Neil, appears Fridays in the Sun. They can also be seen on the 11 a.m. Friday newscast on KVVU Channel 5. Plus, check them out online at and

Copyright 2000 Las Vegas SUN

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The Movie Guys: 
'Duets' doesn't come close to hitting right notes

Synopsis: As a group of six individuals converge on the road to compete for the grand prize in a karaoke contest, their lives intertwine and reveal the remote world of karaoke bars and chain hotels that link the interstates of middle America.

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