If you like going into your Richard Tiffany Gere and Christopher John “Topher” Grace (together at last!) buddy movies unspoiled, try avoiding any upcoming promotional material for “The Double,” because the trailer that has debuted over at Apple has no qualms about sledgehammering its various plot turns into your consciousness with all the subtlety of a massive, unexpected coronary. The film — which is not that Jesse Eisenberg/Richard Ayoade Dostoevsky adaptation you’ve been hearing about — pits two of Hollywood’s dullest acting talents against each other in what appears to be a ludicrous combination of Michael Mann’s “Heat” and Sally Field’s performance in “Sybil.”
Gere, a hardnosed former CIA operative Paul Shepherdson, is pulled out of retirement and paired with Grace who – in the biggest leap of faith required of the audience – is supposed to be playing a driven FBI agent. Together they must hunt down “Cassius,” a Soviet assassin whose murderous tendencies have flared up again when a US Senator is brutally killed, despite Gere informing us he shot the guy in the chest a few years back. Some would say the plot thickens at this point. More rationally-minded people would argue it thins.
You’ll recall in the Charlie Kaufman screenplay “Adaptation,” his fictional brother Donald pitches “The 3” — a “psychologically taut” thriller his mother describes as “Silence of the Lambs” meets “Psycho” and culminates with the cop, the criminal and his female captive being one and the same person — for a six or seven figure deal. The elder Charlie dismisses the film as nonsense: “Look, the only idea more overused than serial killers, is multiple personality. On top of that you explore the notion that cop and criminal are really two aspects of the same person. See every cop movie ever made for other examples of this.”
Such a lousy conceit being trotted out in this case clearly hasn’t kept writer-director Michael Brandt and his co-writer Derek Haas up at night. They’re also incongruously billed here as the men behind “Wanted” and, uh, the “3:10 to Yuma” remake like it were a good thing. We can imagine the pitch meeting now: “Who is this mysterious Cassius Gere’s been hunting the entire movie? Could it be the avuncular Martin Sheen? Or Rosemary, the telephone operator? How about Richard Gere himself, the mild-mannered retired FBI agent? Could be!??!?!” Let’s just say the idea probably “moved” Brandt and Haas…and “The Simpsons” fans will know the rest.
Never mind the Hanna-Barbera logic, it’s throwing out its “Hide and Seek,” “Identity,” and “Secret Window” style “twist” from the get-go (“The killer has a split personality!”) and there’s a splash of “Mr Brooks” style lunacy/banality thrown in there as well. Of course, it’s a welcome change from Grace trying to subvert his “nice guy” image by having him play a homicidal maniac (see also: “Spider-man 3,” “Predators”) particularly as he comes on about as threatening as a guinea pig with mild IBS. Meanwhile Gere, Tinseltown’s most famous Buddhist who’s making his living here by pretending to garrotte people from behind, couldn’t be more washed-up if he took on a role as an inner-city dishwasher named Suds McKenzie. Never the most electrifying of performers, given his forced consignment to either dog lovers or Jennifer Lopez dance partners, it might be time for him to seek out whatever powerful black magic Terence Malick and Paul Schrader performed on him to coax out those performances in “Days of Heaven” and “American Gigolo.”
“The Double” is out September 23rd.