Wednesday July 17, 1996
When Walt Whitman wrote, "I am large, I contain multitudes," he didn't realize he was also pitching the concept for "Multiplicity."
And when Doug Kinney, harried and harassed by the demands of being a husband, father and wage earner, despairs of finding any give in his over-scheduled life, he doesn't realize that modern science will allow the multitudes he contains to come out and play.
Directed by Harold Ramis and starring Michael Keaton at his most satisfying, "Multiplicity" is the latest film to benefit from the unprecedented visual miracles that special effects can now produce. It is also one more example of a picture where technical inventiveness outstrips the pedestrian story line it's meant to animate.
Just how busy is Doug Kinney? With a job as a Los Angeles construction supervisor that has his beeper going off nonstop, he doesn't have time to show up at his daughter's Campfire Girls graduation or even wipe the shaving cream off his face.
And things are promising to get worse. Doug's been promoted to a new position offering more work for the same pay and his loving wife, Laura (Andie MacDowell), wants to return to selling real estate and will need Doug to pitch in more with their two children.
Fortunately Doug's next construction project takes him to the Gemini Institute, where bow-tied geneticist Dr. Owen Leeds (Harris Yulin) promises a miracle. After a two-hour procedure, "you'll have all the time you need for everything." What's the doctor's secret? He's figured out how to clone human beings.
The first copy comes out so much like Doug he thinks he is Doug; only the doctor's foresight in writing the number two behind his ear convinces him otherwise. After setting Two up over the garage, Doug delegates him to construction duty while he begins to help out more around the house.
Predictably, however, Doug finds being a house-husband is more demanding than he anticipated, so he goes back to the doctor and creates Three, who handles the domestic chores so Doug can have quality leisure time for things like golf. And when Two and Three get equally stressed-out and decide they need to clone themselves, Four comes into the picture.
All the creativity and much of the fun of "Multiplicity" is watching Two, Three and (rarely) Four interact with the original Doug. One of the film's conceits is that the clones' personalities develop differently as a result of how they spend their days: Two, for instance, becomes increasingly macho, while Three turns into a sensitive fussbudget who worries about leftovers. Four, meanwhile, has the problems you might expect from a copy of a copy and is also the least satisfying of the clones from a dramatic standpoint.
Aided by remarkable special effects created by Richard Edlund and his Boss Film Studios, Keaton has fine success playing the aspects of Doug. Seeing all the guys in a room together, bickering and complaining about things like who should have sex with Laura, wouldn't be more believable if a quartet of different actors took on the roles. Keaton's ability to create distinct and coherent clones and to interact realistically with his other selves is something to see.
Also successful, though in a less showy capacity, is MacDowell. Having co-starred in "Groundhog Day," which involved repetition of a different sort, MacDowell once again works well with Ramis. And having to play someone who is in the dark about the cloning situation while serving as the stable center that Keaton's characters cavort around is not as easy as she makes it appear.
Yet when it comes to the bulk of "Multiplicity's" plot, to the situations Doug, Laura and the gang find themselves in, most of what the film's four credited screenwriters (Chris Miller & Mary Hale and Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel) have come up with feels standard and thin. And proximity with the film's groundbreaking effects make these tired situations involving domestic chaos and trouble on the job seem even more familiar than they are.
The result is a film that is more Kafkaesque than comedic, more fascinating to watch than out-and-out funny. Though its new technology leads to laughs, "Multiplicity's" scenario shouldn't play as if it were created by a machine as well.
Multiplicity, 1996. PG-13, for sexual situations. A Trevor Albert production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director Harold Ramis. Producers aTrevor Albert and Harold Ramis. Executive producer Lee R. Mayes. Screenplay Chris Miller & Mary Hale and Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel, based on a short story by Chris Miller. Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs. Editor Pem Herring & Craig Herring. Costumes Shay Cunliffe. Music George Fenton. Production design Jackson DeGovia. Art director Geoff Hubbard. Set decorator K.C. Fox. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. Michael Keaton as Doug Kinney. Andie MacDowell as Laura Kinney. Zack Duhame as Zack Kinney. Katie Schlossberg as Jennifer Kinney. Harris Yulin as Dr. Leeds. Richard Masur as Del King. Eugene Levy as Vic.