Multiplicity (1996)

Hats off to Barry for mentioning this film yesterday and inspiring me to take on this cherished comedy in our Michael Keaton-loving circle. As any child of the 80s will tell you, actor/comedian Michael Keaton had just as big an impact on our lives as Pee-Wee Herman, The Simpsons and John Goodman. His iconic starring roles in the first two Batman films and Beetlejuice paved our way to underrated gems like Mr. Mom and The Dream Team. For a time he was one of Hollywood’s biggest box-office stars then took to smaller roles, television appearances and even directed his own feature. He may have faded from general public view but Keaton’s still rockin’ it (see him as the Captain inThe Other Guys) and hopefully has the long-awaited Beetlejuice sequel on the rise.

The quickest way into the heart of any Keaton fan is the mere mention of the criminally underrated 1996 summer box office bomb Multiplicity in which we get not one but FOUR Michael Keatons for the price of one.

Doug Kinney is an LA construction worker struggling to balance his demanding job, career-driven wife and two precocious children. While on a job building the new wing to a science facility, Doug encounters a scientist who just may hold the answer to all of his problems: a method to clone humans. Doug undergoes the operation and is introduced to an exact replica of himself known as Two. Version Two carries an enhanced version of Doug’s business sense (as well as anger issues) and is put in charge of the construction project to allow real Doug more time at home with the kids. Following a disastrous evening preparing dinner and getting the kids ready for football practice and ballet recital; Doug enlists the help of another clone Three, who carries an enhanced version of Doug’s softer more innocent side.

Now Doug’s life seems to be complete with a version of himself to go to work and version of himself to stay at home with the kids, allowing Doug to take some R&R and golf and live the high life. The vacation ends when Two and Three being to wish to live their own respective lives and clone themselves creating the not-so-sharp copy Four. Now Doug has much more than he can handle as the four clones attempt to come together and balance out their shared life in a series of slapstick sitcom-style situations.

Under the whimsical direction of comedy veteran Harold Ramis, Keaton delivers a high-wire performance of comedy perfection. Each version of Doug is completely its own comedy beast. Two is the smooth-talking, sarcastic a-hole Keaton played so well inNight Shift and perfected with the Ray Nicollette character of Jackie Brown and Out of Sight. Three is the neurotic, sweet-nature, borderline annoying Tony Robbins-type. And the challenged Four is just pure comedy gold. To hear Four refers to his privates as “My Pepee”, guzzle down liters of soda or stuff pizza into his wallet is absolutely priceless when coming from Keaton’s charisma. Keaton’s performance is at his best during manic moments, for example the scene in a restaurant where Doug takes his wife to dinner at the same restaurant Two as decided to take his date. Or in the film’s climax in which all four Doug’s manage to have sexual encounters with Doug’s wife (Andie MacDowell) in the same night (“She touched my pepee Steve”).

I’m not sure why the film was such a financial bomb in 96 with its surprisingly upscale effects and comedy appeal, other than the fact that it was released the same summer of Twister, Mission:Impossible, Eraser, Nutty Professor, The Rock, Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc. Luckily its spawned a sort of cult following on DVD and I have many a friend who shares the utmost admiration for Michael Keaton comedies.

-John

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