Keaton and Kompany

Between comeback kid Eddie Murphy's lively new take on The Nutty Professor and the unintentional nonsensicality of the sci-fi megahit Independence Day, this has turned into a pretty good summer for movie yuks. For my money, though, the sharpest and funniest comedy of the silly season is Multiplicity, a breakneck farce about domestic stress and fractured identity in which a willing and able Michael Keaton simultaneously plays four separate versions of a harried California building contractor who can't come up with a blueprint for his own life.

At the screening I attended, the 47-year-olds in the house were laughing just as hard as the 7-year-olds--always a good sign.

The happy little conceit of the picture, which is based on a short story by National Lampoon veteran Chris Miller and directed by Groundhog Day's Harold Ramis, is that its witty, overworked hero, Doug Kinney, just might be able to complete his long day's work, spell his frazzled wife (Andie MacDowell) in the kitchen and still get to his son's peewee football game by reproducing and dividing the labor among his clones. Luckily for Keaton and the movie, though, Dr. Leeds (Harris Yulin) of the "Gemini Institute" hasn't yet perfected the art: At first, Doug Number Two appears to be a reasonable facsimile of the original, but soon we see he's only the ruthless workaholic in Doug; when Doug Three shows up, he's only the prissy nurturer. As for Doug Four, well, he's the fuzzy Xerox, the copy without all the genes in the pool, the pizza-chomping goofball the seven-year-olds in the audience really love.

As in the screwball comedies and unfettered farces of yore, the original Doug's frantic attempt to hide his scientific secret (and to keep his genetic brethren up in the guest house and out of his wife's bed) produces dozens of sight and sound gags. Imagine the clones wooing separate women in the same restaurant, then being forced to switch tables. Between laughs and outbursts of weird sibling rivalry, this very smart sitcom also dispenses some quiet commentary about identity in the postmodern world. Not enough to burst the comic bubble, but it's there.

"I'm too busy to talk to myself," bewildered Doug One laments after getting off the cell phone with his second coming. Hey, aren't we all?

The special-effects wizards have done a nice job cramming three or four Doug Kinneys onto the screen at the same time, but that doesn't diminish Keaton's heroically funny effort. His timing and verve are matchless as he plays four identical (but by no means similar) creatures off each other. For some actors, this might have been self-defeating; many would have bulldozed their co-stars with the sheer numbers. Ramis and Keaton don't do that. In fact, for them everything seems a breeze, and so does this relentlessly entertaining movie.


Screenplay by Chris Miller & Mary Hale and Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel, from a short story by Chris Miller. Directed by Harold Ramis. With Michael Keaton, Andie MacDowell, Harris Yulin and Eugene Levy.


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