Review: Part Rod Serling, part Monty Python, clone thriller ‘Dual’ strays from fertile idea
A glimpse inside a filmmaker’s idea lab is not necessarily the same thing as a film, which puts Riley Stearns’ low-key future satire “Dual” in a frustrating position when there’s so much going for it but so little that lands effectively.
After a tantalizing opening on a well-lit football field with TV cameras and a table of weapons that hints at a “Hunger Games”-like scenario, we jump into the isolated world of Sarah (Karen Gillan), a shut-in missing her absent boyfriend (Beulah Koale), drinking too much and spitting up blood. After a comically vague terminal diagnosis from an eerily smiling doctor — one of those signs we’re in a “movie,” not a movie — she buys into a cloning procedure that leaves behind a well-trained imitation. The idea is, loved ones won’t have to grieve (but someone will have to keep up the medical payments). Sarah’s new double, however, has a mind of her own, and when Sarah tries to reverse the decision, a last-resort legal process is triggered intended to leave only one Sarah standing.
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Stearns’ gnarly scenario — part Rod Serling, part Monty Python — is a fertile one in the well-trod sci-fi subgenre of doppelganger weirdness, and you can see the inklings of a David Cronenberg-style pitilessness in Stearns’ mix of the earnest, the casually brutal and the deadpan. But it’s awfully forced and never exactly funny, just arch — there’s nothing to grab onto. And while her résumé of fantastical roles makes her seemingly right for this kind of part, Gillan is directed into a pair of off-puttingly stiff performances, more skit-appropriate than feature-rich.
When Aaron Paul shows up as a weary combat expert, it’s a welcome personality boost, but his storyline further distances the movie from the identity-crisis absurdity that initially intrigued. Some of that is righted in how Stearns engineers his ending, but “Dual” still ends as a movie afraid of the fascinating depths of its own premise. Can we get a finer-tuned clone, perhaps?
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Starts April 15 in general release
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