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WHERE ARE WE, EXACTLY?

               There's one bad misstep in the romantic thriller “Duplicity” : a waiter in a very fancy Swiss hotel opens a bottle of champagne so clumsily that it froths out of the bottle before he pours the first glass. No Swiss waiter would treat a bottle of Dom Perignon like that.
    On the other hand, our hero and heroine have just been handed some really lousy news, and they need something festive to cheer them up.
    On the other other hand, are they really our hero and heroine? They must be, because they take up most of the screen time (we're talking Clive Owen and Julia Roberts here), but it's hard to tell if we like them or not  because they spend the whole movie double- and triple-crossing each other and everybody else.
    And that is, of course, where the fun comes in and makes “Duplicity” one of the most entertaining movies of the year so far.
    As we join our pair of improbable sweethearts they're meeting for the first time at a ritzy ambassadorial reception in Dubai. (This is one of those movies where we jump around from swanky location to swanky location, and in these days when most of us are planning no vacations at all, ever again, it's a lot of fun to watch.) One of our kids seduces the other one, though who's seducing whom is not at all clear, and several years later we find our kids in the same situation, with the same dialogue, in New York, and what's going on?
    Director Tony Gilroy, who scripted the “Bourne” films, knows his way around a thriller, and his way is to keep us off balance. The double- and triple-crosses help, as do the flashbacks which keep shifting the time-frame.
    But the real shift, that makes this one of the funniest movies of the year, is when we realize that Clive and Julia have quit their government spook jobs and are now working for opposing corporate espionage operations in the world of – wait for it – cosmetics. (How important is the chemical difference between a lotion and a cream? Very important, apparently.)
    By the time we've lost track of who's betraying whom, we can just sit back and enjoy the snappy dialogue of Gilroy's script, which Roberts and Owen have a lot of fun with, and the supporting performances of Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson as the rival CEOs.
    After we've had a good laugh (and when Giamatti and Wilkinson go for each other's throats in slo-mo on the tarmac of a private airport during the opening credits it's a pretty good indication of things to come) we can spend the next 120 minutes not trying to second-guess the plot, but just enjoying the twists and turns.
    I don't much care fore Clive Owen – he's always the same Cockney mumblebum whether he's playing Sir Walter Raleigh or King Arthur, but here he's rather charming, and there's some real chemistry between him and Roberts.
    Speaking of, I have no embarrassment at being a big fan of Julia Roberts, and the people who talk of her being past it can go take a long walk off a short pier. In “Duplicity” she shows almost as much sex appeal and comic timing as Sophia Loren, and that's praise I share with Rosalind Russell, Myrna Loy, Emma Thompson, and very few others.
    In related news: the one sex scene in “Duplicity” is tasteful and only mildly steamy, and if you believe what Roberts says in the tabloids, occasioned much hilarity during the filming, which, IMHO, is what sex ought to do.
    This isn't a har-de-har Adam Sandler-type comedy; in fact, you may not ever laugh out loud. But you will smile broadly, and enjoy yourself hugely, and wonder what's so funny about Adam Sandler anyway.