Blu-ray Review: Preposterously Bad ‘The Double’ Embarrasses Cast, Insults Audience

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CHICAGO – Avid moviegoers like to pride themselves on their ability to predict twists and turns prior to their occurrence in a script. This is often the result of formulaic writing and creaky clichés, but in the case of Michael Brandt’s “The Double,” no exemplary knowledge of cinema is necessary to foretell every last plot point. Only functional eyesight and an IQ above zero are required.

Richard Gere graduates to a new level of wince-inducing weariness as Paul Shepherdson, a guy we first see smiling wistfully in the bleachers at a little league game. ‘Which one is your kid?’ a nearby mother inquires. Shepherdson explains that he doesn’t have children of his own, and likes to attend games just so he can watch the kids play. She smiles and says, ‘That’s nice,’ or something to that degree. I believe the correct word is ‘creepy.’ Blu-ray Rating: 1.0/5.0
Blu-ray Rating: 1.0/5.0

Clearly, there’s something more going on beneath Mr. Shepherdson’s easygoing façade. Maybe I’m just too darn smart, but all I had to do was look at Gere’s face and I instantly predicted the film’s big twist, which isn’t revealed until a full half-hour into the picture. A spoiler alert isn’t all that necessary since the film essentially spoils itself. After mysterious Soviet assassin Cassius emerges as a suspect in the murder of a senator, Shepherdson is called out of retirement to fill his old duty as a CIA operative, while joining forces with a rookie agent, Ben Geary (a miscast Topher Grace), to catch the elusive killer. Gere’s odd behavior around his fresh-faced partner, combined with the dark shadows that cover his face as it turns in slow-motion, remove no shadow of a doubt that he is, in fact, Cassius. Once this simple fact is announced, the script penned by Brandt and Derek Haas has little to do but kill time as Shepherdson reveals his deep self-loathing while talking about himself in oh-so-poignant third person. “A visible alter ego will muddy the waters for anyone who’s chasing Cassius,” he helpfully replies. Every time he warns Geary’s wife (Odette Annable) that she and her family are in terrible danger, she reappears in the next scene with a sunny grin on her face as if she’s been freshly lobotomized.

The Double was released on Blu-ray and DVD on Jan. 31, 2012.
The Double was released on Blu-ray and DVD on Jan. 31, 2012.
Photo credit: Image Entertainment

For a while, it appears that the film’s title relates primarily to Shepherdson’s dual identity, and how it allows him to separate his conscience from his evil id. Yet the filmmakers have one more whopper of a twist to unveil in the final twenty minutes that’s so brazenly preposterous it immediately derails the film from its mediocre path and plunges it into a pool of bargain-basement lunacy. Nowadays, twist endings are just an expected part of the thriller formula (thanks, M. Night Shyamalan), and this one is so bone-headed yet weirdly inevitable that it inspires laughs of incredulity. It’s nearly as funny as the flashbacks to 1988 where Gere and Martin Sheen (as his grim boss) walk around wearing dark hairpieces. Sorry guys, but the rug doesn’t take off 23 years.
“The Double” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio) and is packaged in a Blu-ray jacket that is as inept as the film itself. “True Blood” star Stephen Moyer appears twice on the back, despite the fact that his screen time amounts to mere minutes. There’s also a glaring spelling error in a large pull-quote hailing the film as “a sleek, taught spy thriller.” Apparently no one taut that writer how to spell. In a brief making-of featurette, the filmmakers make a feeble attempt to prove their picture’s timeliness by pointing out that a Russian spy ring was arrested during production. Grace says he was told to play his character as if he had never read the last five pages, which is a terrible direction since it makes the final twist even less believable.
The audio commentary is littered with contradictions, as writer/director Brandt and writer/producer Haas scramble to articulate their intentions. In the original draft, Shepherdson’s identity was revealed right at the beginning. The filmmakers rightfully believed that this would dilute the suspense, and decided to keep it a secret for the first third. So why did they allow the trailer to ruin all their well-intentioned (yet ineffectual) efforts? During Shepherdson and Geary’s climactic confrontation scene, the director notes that a flashback was deleted because he “didn’t want to beat the audience over the head” with the information that was being conveyed in the dialogue. Too bad the filmmakers do that everywhere else in the picture. When Geary discovers the secret to why Shepherdson is so desperate to catch a killer, the film cuts to a montage that fully explains his motivation. It’s only after this blatant explanation that Geary is required to utter the classic line, “So all this time…you were looking for revenge!” Rarely has a “gotcha!” thriller been so eager to explain itself.

‘The Double’ is released by Image Entertainment and stars Richard Gere, Topher Grace, Martin Sheen, Tamer Hassan, Chris Marquette, Odette Annable and Stephen Moyer. It was written by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas and directed by Michael Brandt. It was released on Jan. 31, 2012. It is rated PG-13. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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