A 'Multiplicity' of glitches Movie review: Clones alone can't jTC save underdeveloped film starring Michael Keaton four times over.

July 17, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

"Multiplicity" is about Bozos the clones.

But the new Harold Ramis film, despite a few moments of sheer delirium, must be judged something of a disappointment following on Ramis' sublime "Groundhog Day," still the best comedy of the '90s.

Like "Groundhog Day," "Multiplicity" is built on a premise it's probably best not to examine too carefully. Its plot: Send in the clones.

In this one, ultra-harried construction supervisor Michael Keaton, working on a project at a genetic research institute, is on the verge of a nervous breakdown when kindly old Professor Leeds (avuncular Harris Yulin) gives him a break by putting him in the gene heater-upper. Like microwave popcorn, this device pops out two more just like Keaton's Doug Kinney, to do some of the scut work he no longer has time to do.

Rule No. 1, as Doug explains it to his two new twins: No sex with the wife (Andie MacDowell).

But what he doesn't know is that nature has its own Rule No. 1, which is: Nothing's perfect.

The conceit of "Multiplicity" is that each of the clones (and a subsequent fourth one created by the first two) represent a subtly different aspect of masculinity. They aren't really clones so much as simplifications distilled from his complexity: No. 2, for example, is hyper-masculine, a belcher, scratcher and beer drinker, aggressive in the workplace and seething with violence; No. 3, by contrast, is the feminine part of the personality, absurdly nurturing, gushy with compassion and the willingness to get along. No. 4 is the infantile aspects of manhood: a drooling baby man who merely wants his needs satisfied instantly and is incapable of rational thought.

As an acting exercise, the film provides Keaton with enough text to win an Oscar, not that he will. I was particularly interested in the way No. 2 and No. 3's faces differed. The macho guy's face was a mug, a bone structure slathered in dead flesh around eyes dim as yesterday's charcoals. His was entirely a personality based on rawly conceived emotions, mainly expressed through yelling. Interest in others: zero.

By contrast, the wondrously empathetic No. 3 had a face totally alive down to the atomic level: His eyes sparkle, his expression changes as continuously as the sea, he takes on the physical appearance and body posture of the person with whom he's talking. He's so egoless he hardly seems to exist except as a vessel for others to fill.

As for No. 4, he makes a lot of noise and calls everybody "Steve" for some unknown reason. His distinguishing feature: Before eating his Spaghetti-Os, he rinses them in his hair.

However, "Multiplicity" sounds much better than it turns out to be. Having set up this nifty situation, Ramis isn't quite sure what to do with it. The movie doesn't move forward to a point and it doesn't begin to deliver on its potential. We yearn to see Doug use his clones to some kind of tactical advantage -- such as in the workplace, in crushing an adversary -- but somehow he never does.

The movie quickly abandons its provocative subtext for the crudest kind of physical comedy, sometimes very funny. Its high point is the crazed night where Rule No. 1 is broken. Well, not merely broken: smashed, crushed, wasted, blown-away, zapped.

But the movie really just sort of peters out rather than reaching a sublime point. In "Groundhog Day," there was an exquisite moment where the wonderfully horrid Bill Murray actually regained contact with his humanity and rejoined his species. No such thing occurs in "Multiplicity"; the movie just staggers toward a point where it's gone on long enough to do everybody the favor of ending it.

Send out the writers.

'Multiplicity'

Starring: Michael Keaton and Andie MacDowell

Directed by: Harold Ramis

Released by: Columbia

Rated PG-13 (adult situations)

Sun score: ** 1/2

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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