BY JJ HAMMERLE, special guest contributor to Hammervision
In the pantheon of underrated films, there has always been one motion picture that has always held a special place in my heart. That movie is Harold Ramis’ 1996 gem, Multiplicity. At the time, Hollywood was pioneering the special effect of overlaying an actor’s performances so that an actor could appear on screen as two different characters at the same time. Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor was the big comedy hit that year; Multiplicity garnered little commercial success. Who knew overweight people farting at the dinner table was comedy gold?
1996 was a good year for movies, Jerry Maguire, Sling Blade, Fargo, Kazaam, all came out that year, so its no wonder that this family comedy was overshadowed by these blockbusters, or by comedy cult classics like Happy Gilmore and Swingers. Multiplicity is underrated in that it is not given its due respect when compared to its peers, I mean really, who wants to throw Space Jam, or The Nutty Professor in their DVD player? Something tells me the novelty of Murphy’s clearly inspired performance has worn off, whereas Michael Keaton’s is something worth watching over, and over and over again. Get it? No? Let me explain.
Multiplicity tells the story of contractor and family man Doug Kinney, a man who never seems to find a manageable balance between work and family. While working on a renovation that is falling apart at the seams, Kinney meets a serendipitous geneticist (go ahead say that a couple of times out loud, its fun) who offers Kinney just what he needs…time. The good doctor has found the secret to cloning, and has offered his services to Kinney.
Skeptical at first, Kinney soon finds himself in the doctor’s lab. A mirror image of Kinney is produced; the clone shares every memory Kinney had up until the cloning procedure took place. Having produced a perfect clone of himself, Kinney plans to use the clone to help out at work, with the ultimate goal of freeing up more time for his family and himself.
His plan works perfectly until his wife, Laura, sees the free time that has suddenly appeared in her husband’s schedule, and begins adding tasks to the honey do list. Faced with the added time commitment from home, Kinney comes to the simple conclusion that if he is going to have any time for himself, he is going to need another clone to help out with home life. And back to his friend the geneticist he goes.
Now, with two clones helping to manage the life of Kinney, each clone begins to develop their own personality. The first clone, tasked with taking over Kinney’s work life, gravitates to the more testosterone driven aspects of Kinney’s personality. This eventually leads to the first clone becoming a beer-drinking-football-watching alpha male. The second clone, tasked with taking care of the homestead, gravitates more to the domestic aspects of Kinney’s personality. The second clone bakes, cleans, listens to his wife’s complaints, all the things the first clone has distanced himself from.
When the clones decide that they need some help with their own lives, they decide to make a clone of a clone. But when you make a copy of a copy it’s not as sharp. The third clone turns out a little….soft.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying Multiplicity deserved an Oscar, this isn’t a critique on American society for failing to hail Multiplicty as a great American movie. All I am saying is Multiplicity is a solid, fun, wholly enjoyable, and underrated movie. And here is why:
Michael Keaton is awesome. The man was and is Batman as far as I’m concerned. Keaton is an underrated actor and is a joy to watch on screen. Having three different versions of Keaton on screen at one time only makes Multiplicity three times as cool. Keaton has an engaging sense of comic timing that makes him immediately endearing to audiences. The man clearly had a blast making this movie, and it translates to a fun movie watching experience. Any casting director who is considering casting Keaton should just do it, his small but potent role in The Other Guys should be a reminder of how talented the man is.
Harold Ramis can direct. A talented comedic actor in his own right, Ramis is responsible for some of the best comedies of all time. Seee.g., Groundhog Day. Cf. Year One. He doesn’t make garbage. The movie clips along at smooth pace, and despite one glaring exception, all the performances in the film hit their mark. Even if you can spot the character arcs and ending from a mile a way, it doesn’t really impact the film negatively. There is something comforting about knowing where a story like this is going.
The only real problem with Multiplicity, besides some plot holes that you just have to accept and forgive, is Andie MacDowell. Andie MacDowell can only play one character: Andie MacDowell. She is like a less talented Jeff Goldblum that you never want to see on screen. But just like Bill Murray, Keaton, along with the direction of Ramis, doesn’t let MacDowell ruin it for everyone.
Multiplicity is not the best comedy ever made, but it is a fun movie made by talented people and Andie MacDowell. Multiplicity is a comedy for the entire family, think of all the crappy “family” movies that come out each year. This is a movie that succeeds where so many have failed, and for that it deserves a second watching and a little respect.