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Duplex (2003)

Our House

Alex and Nancy finally found their dream home...And then they moved in.

Rating: 2/10

Running Time: 89 minutes

UK Certificate: 12a

Nowadays pretty much every Hollywood comedy not set in a high school seems to feature Ben Stiller. It is only April, and already this year we have seen him in Starsky and Hutch, Along Came Polly and now ‘Our House’. These are all quite different films, but you would hardly know it to look at his performances – for in these, as in pretty much every film he as ever made, even including less mainstream projects like Neil LaBute’s ‘Your Friends and Neighbours’ and Wes Anderson’s ‘The Royal Tennenbaums’, Stiller plays essentially the same character: the uptight, angry buffoon. He may be very good at it – and that whole frustrated rage schtick goes down well in post-9/11 America (just look how it has resuscitated Adam Sandler’s career) – but it is all starting to become a little tiresome, especially when Stiller appears in so many bland schedule-fillers like ‘Our House’.

He plays Alex, a young novelist looking for an affordable dreamhome to settle down in with his wife Nancy (Drew Barrymore). The spacious, and strangely inexpensive duplex that they purchase in Brooklyn seems “almost too good to be true”, and of course there is one hitch – Mrs Connelly (Eileen Essel) “the sweet little old lady who lives upstairs”, and who according to New York’s rent control laws cannot be evicted – but she seems harmless enough, and cannot have too much longer to live. Yet when the young couple’s lives start to unravel as a result of the eccentric old Irish woman’s interferences, their vague wish that she would die becomes an uncontrollable desire to kill her, and when their own attempts fail, they call in specialist help (James Remar).

‘Our House’ is directed by Danny DeVito, who is an old master of black comedy (‘Throw Momma from the Train’, ‘The War of the Roses’), and written by Larry Doyle, who has contributed to TV’s brilliant ‘Daria’ and ‘The Simpsons’ (even if he is more recently guilty of scripting ‘Looney Tunes: Back in Action’). So it really ought to be a wickedly dark and sophisticated satire of middle-class home-making aspirations, but instead its promising scenario quickly gives way to a succession of thin ‘Home Alone’-style pratfalls, desperate jokes involving phlegm, farts and vomit, cringingly bad puns concerning a macaw named ‘Little Dick’ and (conversely) a male member with the pet name ‘Mr Peabody’. As in ‘Throw Momma from the Train’, much of the humour derives from anxieties about the elderly, and more particularly their (no doubt wrinkly, smelly) bodies, but far from being funny, this serves here to reflect a certain childishness on the part of a script which might well have ben efitted from an older, wiser hand to guide it, wrinkles and all. By the time Alex is having his ‘berries’ groped by a nurse to see if they are still in full working order, all coherence and cleverness have been abandoned for the lazier option of gross-out, and any notion of credible characterisation has fallen out the window along with the actors’ dignity.

Most criminal of all, ‘Our House’ is too cowardly to follow through on its homicidally cruel premise, and so disappoints with an inappropriately saccharine ending – although there is a neat final twist.

It's Got: The line "its my experience that wives dont pick up guns and accidentally shoot their husbands in the penis".

It Needs: Coherence, subtlety, and jokes that are actually funny.


Hard as it is to care about these homicidal homemakers, it is harder still to laugh at them.