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Duplicity (PG-13) **½

Ex-CIA officer Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) and former MI6 agent Ray Koval (Clive Owen) are spies-turned-corporate operatives in the midst of a clandestine love affair in the caper "Duplicity", from writer/director Tony Gilroy. Photo Credit: Andrew Schwartz / Universal Pictures.
Ex-CIA officer Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) and former MI6 agent Ray Koval (Clive Owen) are spies-turned-corporate operatives in the midst of a clandestine love affair in the caper "Duplicity", from writer/director Tony Gilroy. Photo Credit: Andrew Schwartz / Universal Pictures.

By Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald

Duplicity is a thinking person’s caper, and, as such, it deserves credit for its jaunty cerebral style, even if it turns out to be unnecessarily complicated and sometimes nonsensical. On the plus side, if you’re flummoxed by the twisty plot or its occasional holes, you can always gaze contentedly at Clive Owen and be wholly entertained.

Directed and written by Tony Gilroy — who wrote and directed the Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton — this talky, playful film centers on industrial espionage, as opposed to the more physical sort employed by Jason Bourne and James Bond. The job sounds less sexy than diving through windows or dangling from cranes, but fear not. The spies in question are the ever-sparring Claire (Julia Roberts) and Ray (Owen), so there are plenty of sparks and lively banter to go around.

Claire (CIA) and Ray (MI6) are agents who meet cute at a party in Dubai, if by cute you mean she ravishes him, drugs him, digs through his stuff for secret files and leaves him, presumably to face some really cranky bosses. (One has to admire Claire; she waits until after she jumps his bones to toss his hotel room.) Years later, though, they find themselves working together in the private sector for the CEO of a beauty-products company (Paul Giamatti) obsessed with stealing trade secrets from his corporate rival (Tom Wilkinson). Claire uncovers the announcement of a revolutionary new product — no details, just that it will make the shareholders filthy rich — and the ongoing trust issues between Claire and Ray multiply a thousandfold.

Duplicity isn’t quite as clever as it wants to be, but it’s diverting and funny, and it’s always a pleasure to watch a movie that relies on brains as fodder instead of brawn. Gilroy raises pertinent questions about self-interest and greed in these days of corporate gluttony and provides enough twists on the movie’s central question — Who’s gaming whom? — to keep you from getting lost in the nonlinear storyline. (Duplicity also raises the important question of whether you would risk your job in these tough times for a roll in the hay with Clive Owen. Each woman must answer for herself.)

What makes Duplicity work, though, is the old-school screwball chemistry between Roberts and Owen. You may wonder why Roberts must run to a rigged copy machine to transmit secret information when she has a cellphone with a camera in her pocket, but you will never wonder why the filmmakers cast these two. They’re terrific together. Trust me.

Cast: Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti.

Director/screenwriter: Tony Gilroy.

Producers: Laura Bickford, Jennifer Fox, Kerry Orent.

A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 125 minutes. Language, some sexual content. Playing at area theaters.

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