director: bruce paltrow
huey lewis, gwyneth paltrow

. “Karaoke is my life.” More than one character in Bruce Paltrow’s Duets makes this statement. It’s meant to get a laugh, and that’s the first problem this film has to overcome.

There seems to be a string of films coming out, inspired it seems by American Beauty, where beautiful and famous actors play “real people” with "real problems". Duets follows a group of “regular folks” in crisis, as they make their way from different parts of the country to a big karaoke championship in Omaha. Call it cut-rate Altman without the ambiguity.

Paltrow’s daughter Gwyneth plays a ditzy Vegas showgirl (why do the words “ditzy” and “showgirl” inevitably go together?) who finally meets her father, Huey Lewis, a karaoke hustler, and follows him on the road. A naive young cab driver (“naive cab driver” -- those words don’t often go together) falls in with an ambitious young singer who’ll sleep her way into anything, including a hotel room or a spray job for a car. A burnt-out executive goes AWOL with an ex-con and do Sam and Dave routines all their way to Omaha.

At its best, the film is sappy and gormless. At its worst, it drips with condescension toward the “real people”, some of them fat or tacky, who actually enjoy singing “You are so Beautiful” off-key to a room of drunken strangers. At no point in the story can you ignore the smug, stifled laughter behind the telling.