It’s depressing to contemplate that Bruce Paltrow, an able writer and producer of TV shows (”St. Elsewhere,” ”The White Shadow”), spent more than three years pushing to make Duets, a leaden piece of whimsy that looks for profound life lessons among a group of karaoke bar aficionados. What could Paltrow have seen in this story other than the chance to tap the star appeal of his daughter Gwyneth?
Maybe John Byrum’s original drafts were better, but in the film now slipping ever so quickly out of your local multiplex, the platitudes come thick and fast. ”We’re family, Daddy,” Gwyneth has to whine to her estranged pop (Huey Lewis), a small time hustler who tricks people into betting against him in barroom singing competitions. ”I’ve waited my whole LIFE to spend time with you.”
It helps a little that Paltrow looks like she’s having a ball playing a lanky need case partial to funky miniskirts. She sings charmingly and speaks her lines like she’s imitating Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe on ”Friends.” But despite equally game efforts by Paul Giamatti as a salesman on a bender and Andre Braugher as an ex-con with a fine voice, the material is beyond salvage. These actors had about as much chance of making art out of ”Duets” as Celine Dion would if you handed her the sheet music for ”Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”