Better Living Through Science


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           MANY THINGS ARE timely about Multiplicity, but especially the part about it being a guy thing. How long has it been now since good journalists and sharp-eyed sociologists began studying the pressures of the Mommy Track, the Glass Ceiling, and Having It All? And yet it's telling that the first movie about cloning as a solution to parenting and overwork gives the patent to a guy, and to Mr. Mom at that.

           Multiplicity's great gimmick is a parent who wants it all but doesn't have the time to get it, and who finds a way to duplicate himself in order to bring out the inner child, the inner entrepreneur, and the inner idiot. Michael Keaton is the clone king here; as Doug Kinney (named for a famous burnout victim and former cohort of director Harold Ramis from their days making National Lampoon movies), he's a middle manager who's muddling all his managing. He can't control his workers (guys who build condo developments, such as "Vista de Nada"), he can't finish his own home improvement projects, and he has no time for himself, let alone his wife, Laura (Andie MacDowell).

           So, on a shopping whim--no cost mentioned, which suggests he had the money all along to contract out his home improvements--he buys a clone to take over the work part. But the hard-charging Clone Number Two isn't enough help, because now Doug is running Mom-Taxi errands since he's encouraged Laura to go back to work. To solve that problem, Doug comes home with a househusband, Number Three, a prim cousin to Stuart Smalley and the Anal Retentive Chef. Things seem ducky until the clones themselves get stressed and produce their own knockoff, Four, a genetic mishap who might as well be christened Dumber than Dumb.

           What Multiplicity does with this fertile social satire is to take the short stroll with quick jokes rather than a long, invigorating hike of thought. Waiting for the cloning, Doug is told to relax and put his feet in the stirrups; this affront to his narcissism never sets in. Doug takes Laura to a restaurant, and Number Two is there with the office secretary; the gift of farcical mistaken identities is squandered on slapstick foolishness. Similarly, as the clones accidentally appear in her husband's place, Laura's confusion about Doug's identity hinges primarily on his sexuality.

           The joy of seeing Michael Keaton play the prissy Number Three, along with the average-guy Doug, just about balances out the non-revelation of all this metaphysical wonder. Keaton does have a handle on normality and just how far it can be stretched; he's Tom Hanks without the Prozac. And the cast around him/them, some of them former SCTV graduates, is given a consistent supply of jokey lines that at least provide refreshment if not actual insight. As with Groundhog Day, Harold Ramis knows how to take middle-class mundanity--including some poignancy, and especially the half-done house-renovation environment--and inject it with useful barbs that Mr. Home Alone, John Hughes, will never figure out.

           But while watching this simulacrum of modern parenting, I started to think about the movies in which Andie MacDowell has starred as the victim of some guy's dumb and/or noncommittal scheming: Groundhog Day; sex, lies, and videotape; The Object of Beauty; Green Card; and Four Weddings and a Funeral all pit her against a fool with big ideas but no resourcefulness. Now, why can't MacDowell (or Glenn Close, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Meryl Streep, Meg Ryan, Mary McDonnell, Christine Lahti, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rita Wilson, Glenne Headly, Bonnie Hunt, even Goldie Hawn or Julia Roberts) get a chance to clone herself?

           I suppose having Michael Keaton as an uncloned husband sleep with three additional versions of his wife would be a little scary. So that must be the obstacle: Since much of Doug's woe centers on sexual jealousy, it seemed safer to play out an updated version of the Alpha Male plot. But Multiplicity ignores the locker-room battle and mostly plays dutiful math student, following the various permutations of Doug and the scenarios based around the presence or absence of each clone. It's basically diversion, or fancy footwork, that distracts from the sharper story that's still waiting to be told: the stress of modern momhood.

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