Writer/Director Riley Stearns really made a real splash with the criminally underrated and underseen 2019 black-comedy, "The Art of Self-Defense" (read my review of that film here). He follows it up with "Dual," another film that exists in the same darkly comedic vein that his previous work did, but this one doesn't quite resonate nearly as much.
"Dual" is a film that introduces a very compelling concept, but veers well off course. By the time it tries to right the ship, it's too far gone for us to care.
If you saw another impressive, powerful yet under-appreciated film last year called "Swan Song" (on Apple TV+), the concept of "Dual" will sound very familiar. In the world of "Dual," people that are terminally ill can choose to have a "replacement" procedure done, where they are cloned. This clone goes on living the deceased person's life, and is sold as a "gift" to the ill person's family and friends, so that they do not have to deal with the grief of losing a loved one.
Occasionally however, circumstances change, and if the "original" doesn't end up dying or dead, the clone eventually gains some human rights...since there can only be one individual, a clone can challenge an original to a "duel," where they literally fight to the death, with the winner claiming the life and existing as that person moving forward. And oh, these duels are quite popular, with fans filling up the bleachers, and TV crews on-hand to record the action.
Sarah (Karen Gillan) seems to be a typical twenty-something female, living somewhat of a normal life, despite never answering her nagging mother's (Maija Paunio) phone calls, and trying to carry out a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend Peter (Beulah Koale). Out of completely nowhere, she wakes up with blood covering her pillow, and upon getting checked out, is told that she will most certainly die of whatever ailment she's been inflicted with. This news makes Sarah numb, and that's when the doctor hands her a pamphlet explaining the "replacement" procedure.
Needless to say, Sarah goes along with the procedure and it produces a clone, genetically identical to Sarah except for the fact that the clone came out with blue eyes (Sarah's natural eye color is brown). To ease the assimilation, the clone starts cajoling with Peter, but much to everyone's shock - 10 months later - Sarah has annoyingly not yet died. In fact, not only has she not died, but she's actually been medically cleared of that "certain death" prognosis. The clone files for a "duel" to take place, and Sarah has one year to ready herself for the fight. She hires a weapon's expert and trainer, Trent ("Breaking Bad"'s Aaron Paul), to get her in battle-ready shape.
The clone is just one of the many problems facing Sarah. Her boyfriend has fallen hard for the clone and no longer wants to be with Sarah. And Sarah's mother likes that the clone has been returning her calls, and seems OK with this new version of her beloved daughter.
While "Dual" begins with energy and creativity, it takes an unexpected detour when the bulk of the remaining time is spent on Sarah's training. What, what? The movie eventually lands back at themes of duality and what it means to be human once the two Sarah's begin hanging out, but for a too-long stretch of time, it's about Sarah's training and her weird relationship with her trainer, Trent.
The consistency - and laughs - of Stearns earlier films is missing this time around. There are fleeting moments, a few deadpan line deliveries and a "promotional video" on the replacement procedure that were laugh-out-loud funny, but in-between there are some terribly clunky chunks of movie. It ends up all feeling slight, and leaves the viewer feeling a bit empty. The entire film gears up towards something that never ends up happening, making the time spent even less vital.
"Dual" ends up feeling slight...a missed opportunity with a wasted, talented cast. Riley Stearns is a gifted filmmaker, but "Dual" proves how hard it is to duplicate one's own success.
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes.
Starring: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Theo James, Beulah Koale.
Written and Directed by Riley Stearns ("The Art of Self-Defense," "Faults").
"Dual" is in theaters on Friday, April 15th, 2022.
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