The 1996 run rolls on, as we revisit one more disappointment from that summer: Multiplicity. Before Michael Keaton’s career became a joke, which was before Keaton’s career became a thing of pure envy, he was a reliable funny-man. It seemed to happen overnight, or at least if felt that way as a kid. In my head Keaton went from comedic perfection in Beetlejuice to the nightmarishly abysmal Jack Frost in a split second.
That wasn’t the case. However, Keaton’s teaming with a three years removed from Groundhog Day Harold Ramis was supposed to be a piece of greatness. Multiplicity didn’t garner the love that the Bill Murray and Ramis collaboration did. Not by a long, oh-so-long, shot. Perhaps it wasn’t that bad though? Perhaps Keaton playing a father/husband and a bunch of his closes was a secret Ramis-Keaton gem. Perhaps, I was nuts.
Released on July 19th, 1996, Multiplicity arrived, um, poorly. Caught in the wake of that summer’s biggest blockbuster (Independence Day), as well as a big comedy hit (The Nutty Professor), the film barely beat out the Shaq pic Kazaam at the box-office, opening in seventh for its first weekend out. In the end, the film made a cough over $21 million, closing out at 78th for the year’s total releases, a shade above the re-issue of Oliver & Company.
Keaton plays Doug Kinney, you’re standard overworked 90s dad. Doug’s construction job takes up too many hours, and the ones left are too little for him to properly enjoy the time with his wife Laura (Andie MacDowell) or kids Zack (Zack Dunney) and Jennifer (Katie Schlossberg). What’s a modern man to do? Clone himself of course. Or at least that is the option put forth after Doug meets a doctor (Harris Yulin) who provides that opportunity. Desperate for a change, Doug goes all in and the usual wackiness ensues.
This was dumb and annoying as hell, or so that’s how I recall it being. Not getting the HBO/Starz/whatever loop as the hits, the main thought I have of Multiplicity as a product itself is Keaton playing a clone of a clone in silly clothes mugging for the camera in a way that would embarrass Jim Carrey. As a then 14-year-old, I was fickle prick. I went from loving White Zombie one week to laughing at the idea of them the next. It happens. Teenagers, largely, are assholes. With Multiplicity, it dawned on me that Keaton was yesterday’s news and his every leading role for years was met with an eye-roll. His shtick was wearing thin, with every performance being a series of head tilts and screech-y yells.
Two movies into this summer program of watching past disappointments has been zero-for-two in finding new pleasures. That said, it’s also probably the one that could have the best potential for improvement. Ramis, never the most consistent filmmaker, did manage to make quality work again after Multiplicity, while Keaton is arguably in the best spot his career has ever seen, with leading roles in back-to-back Best Picture winners. But…I have literally heard zero people bring this up as a lost classic, or even as a film in and of itself. So, mediocrity is the highest my expectations can go.
The reason nobody talks about Multiplicity these days is simple. It’s not funny.
This is in a very literal sense. There are no jokes worth laughing at in the entire film. An absurd notion, particularly with the talent involved. This is nonetheless a fact as there is such a vacuum of worthwhile humor that it feels like a Producers con of some sort must have been brainstormed.
If Multiplicity were made today it would feature Adam Sandler and probably have been released in 2007. The only difference would be more t-shirts worn by the lead and a wife played by an actress, oh, eight years younger at least. The comedy is meant to derive from a Mr. Mom-esque routine meets a spoonful of men-gotta-be-men nonsense. Keaton’s pre-cloned character does indeed moan about having to work too much, while balking at the difficulties of his spouse’s daily activities. Soon, the routine of getting the kid wherever and sipping tea-cups becomes his duty, and thus we get a trio of Keatons added to the tale, with the hijinks of hiding the truth from wifey and their oh-so-zany differences being the butt of the jokes.
These variables on how each Doug acts are, well, offensive could be a word for it. Troubling is definitely befitting. The first clone is a near-perfect replica of the original Doug’s personality, if slightly blunter. Doug #3 though, is clearly meant to be a gay Doug, but I guess 1996 wasn’t cool with that notion yet. Keaton portrays this edition as stereotypically fey, with a higher-pitched vocal octave, floaty hand gestures and whatever other ways you’d expect a decades old Hollywood movie to envision a gay man without the guts to call him as such. Then there is Doug #4 aka the mentally challenged one, since he is a clone of a clone. The less said of this one the better, suffice it to say the aforementioned mugging is as remembered, embarrassing,
What’s more annoying about Multiplicity is its portrayal of marriage, managing to even have the line, “Some guys are whipped. It’s okay,” in there from one Doug to another. A lovely notion really. There is nothing wrong about a story on the challenges of raising kids, loving and living with one another, nor the particular troubles that might come from the male perspective. This is whining though. Hovering around family discourse makes sense, as two of the scripts hands created Parenthood, but this telling negates the mother’s role to that of nag. Andie MacDowell, an actress who’s always split viewers, is perfunctory here. Her part is arrive, say that Doug needs to do this or that and then leave, with the exception being the uncomfortable scene where she mistakenly sleeps with all of the Dougs in one evening…which I’m pretty sure would qualify as rape.
But hey, this movie has a lot of saxophones blaring to note that something silly is happening, so laugh why don’t you. Ramis just can’t find that tone he conjured with Groundhog Day; too goofy and undercut by a rushed sense of heart at the end. More than a forgettable dud, Multiplicity is a comedic dud of embarrassing levels. Now, please go back to ignoring it.