It's little surprise that for his second film as director, Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy leans heavily on his favored tropes of international espionage and cutthroat capitalism. The surprise is that Duplicity is a comedy—about two people who love each other more than they could ever trust each other—and a superb one at that. Julia Roberts and Clive Owen star as former CIA and MI6 agents, respectively, who find themselves unwittingly reunited in the private sector, working to uncover the competition's closely guarded trade secrets for a Procter & Gamble–like manufacturing giant. I could say that the fun of Gilroy's who's-conning-whom bauble, which ping-pongs about in time and place from New York to Rome to London and back, comes from not knowing where it's headed next. But the rarer pleasure is the confidence Gilroy inspires, such that where he's taking us hardly matters at all. Like the tart-tongued screwball romps of the 1930s and Soderbergh's latter-day screwball Out of Sight, Duplicity luxuriates in implausible situations, high-caliber dialogue that ricochets off every Dolby Digital speaker, and two immensely likable movie stars who possess the thing that no amount of intra-agency packaging can will into being: chemistry.
Roberts and Owen are fluent in half-truths.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., March 20. Rated PG-13. 125 minutes.