There’s little more disappointing then a movie where there’s not much, you know, movie. Doubles is about two hundred percent concept and almost no percent actual story, an experiment that most assuredly failed but one where we’re forced to read the lab notes anyway. It was admittedly filmed on a tiny budget and with constrained resources, but a great movie can come from those things without turning into a snake that gobbles its own tail.
The movie is about two disgruntled men who only know each other by their Internet aliases, Gun and Key. Gun’s one of those young techno-wizards with tons of esoteric technical knowledge but lousy people skills. He’s bitter from being ousted at his position at a dot-com outfit, and wants revenge on his former boss. Key is a locksmith, a gloomy man in his forties with money trouble and nothing to lose by helping out someone who needs his magic touch to crack open the company’s safe. They’ve got it all worked out: they can break into the building, loot the office, walk out of there with sixty million yen, and retire to Tahiti or something, all without anyone getting hurt — least of all themselves.
The movie has its druthers for, oh, about the first third of its running time. Gun (Kazuma Suzuki, Crazy Lips) and Key (Kenichi Hagiwara, Eight Tombstone Village and Kagemusha) are fun to watch as they butt horns and find each other alternately atavistic and annoying. I liked the idea of a generation-gap movie set in Japan’s post-bubble working world. Then they’re ambushed by another guy who had the exact same plan they did, and end up in the building’s elevator stuck between two floors. Elevator to the Gallows, this is not: the movie gets stuck there, too, and never comes out alive. (There’s a sort of framing device involving a scene outside the building at a restaurant, where a woman and a high-school aged girl are maybe waiting for one of them to show up, but it’s a red herring.)
I don’t have a problem with a film where most of the action is in one confined space. The problem is Doubles doesn’t even have the nerve to just be that. It turns into a No, But What If? movie, where we see a series of calamities unfold for minutes on end only to learn — surprise! — it’s just fantasizing on the part of one of the characters. First they try to climb out the top of the elevator, only to meet their dooms — then we see them back inside, writing off the idea. Then another plan, which ends in tears as well. Another, which ends in bloodshed. And on, and on.
Once, maybe even twice, this is tolerable, but Doubles uses this device as its entire modus for most of its running time. By the two-thirds mark, we’ve had not only our trust in the characters but our interest in them betrayed so many times. By the time the film limps to its supposedly heartwarming ending, the formaldehyde monster from The Host could have leaped out of the elevator shaft to devour Gun and Key whole and we still wouldn’t care.