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The Do-Deca-Pentathlon (2012)

November 8, 2012

7/10 Brotherly Loves

Certainly inspired, but could have been epic.

The Do-Deca-Pentathlon is about two estranged brothers. One grew up and had himself a wife and kid, the other grew up to become a professional poker player with aspirations of continued bachelorhood. Now in their 30s and driven apart by their competitive natures, they reunite to celebrate the family man’s birthday. It’s actually more like the bachelor shows up unannounced and uninvited to beat his brother at the 5K he signed up for, but that’s just how they are. So, with things still tender between them, the bachelor challenges his brother to a rematch of The Do-Deca-Pentathlon: a 25-event, mano-a-mano competition they once competed in as kids. Knowing his wife and physician would highly disapprove, the family man is initially hesitant. But thanks to a bruised ego coupled with some victories during a few late-night competitions, the family man throws down, keeps it from his wife, and  strives to regain his former glory without risking his marriage in the process.

That’s right, boys and girls, we’ve got another Duplass brothers movie on our hands, and if you’re at all familiar, you know what to expect. Familiar faces, familiar style, familiar themes, and familiar vibes. I’d like to think that this is good news all around, but for some, I’ve found that this return to form is a return unwelcome. Maybe it’s all the extreme-closeups and shaky-cam cinematography, maybe it’s how off-the-cuff everything always feels. Whatever the reason, I do get it, and if it’s not your thing, then this ain’t either. It’s more of the same for better or worse, but as for me, I’m all about it. The Dupli have done me right this year, and I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon.

Now, I have myself a theory, one that I tend to swear by and, amazingly enough, can back up with solid evidence. You ready? Well get ready! Folks, when it comes to TV, the best episodes of the best shows are the ones that involve a competition. Granted, not every show has one of these episodes, I don’t watch nearly enough TV to be an authority on the matter, and blanket statements like this tend to bite me in the ass. However, I present the evidence: “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld, the episode of Friends where they play roommate trivia for each other’s apartments, and the episode of Cheers where Cliff gets on Jeopardy! I’m sure there are others, but that Seinfeld episode alone should be enough to make some believers out of this terribly bold statement.

With that being said, this here is a great idea for a movie. In theory, it’s like a grown-up version of Kenny vs. Spenny, and that, dear readers, is a golden premise. Depth and story aside, there is so much potential right off the bat for hilarious scenario after hilarious scenario that male audiences in particular will be unable to resist. As for the ladies, I have no idea what the draw will be or if there’s even any to begin with. But still, we men love us some competition. Anyhow, as much as I’d love to segue this into a riff about how hilarious it ends up being, this, unfortunately, is what leads us to the bad news.

For all its potential, there ain’t all that much competing going on. I mean, we see them compete from one event to the next, but it comes off more like a montage than it does an actual do-deca-pentathlon in all its middle-aged grandeur. As a result, it’s hard to root for someone in the moment since it’s hard to figure out who’s winning or losing, and there are only a couple instance where we get to see their feats of strength or underdog performances acted out from the start of an event to its finish. I don’t know, perhaps I’m just being nitpicky here, but I was really hoping for more. Not to say that it isn’t fun as is, it just could have been more. And when you give your movie a bold-ass title like “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon,” I don’t think that’s an unreasonable hope to have. Just add another ten minutes to the movie, draw out the montages into full-blown scenes, problem solved. Whoomp, there it is.

Although the good news is that all this lack of competition is made up for by the one thing the Dupli do best: character development. Lo and behold, the heart of this story doesn’t belong to the do-deca at all, but rather to the family man and his inner struggles. Even though his son thinks he’s a loser, and even though his wife is doing her best to stifle the beast inside of him, he insists that he’s happy. He’s playing the part, and he almost convinces us of it, too. But then starts the do-deca, and just like that, the beast is unleashed. Overnight, it becomes his number one priority in life. Birthdays, relationships, the responsibilities of adulthood and parenthood – all that shit can wait. It’s not unexpected given that the Dupli’s love them some self-realization, but it is unexpected if you’re going in expecting the do-deca to take front and center.

And I dig that about this movie. This is a very relatable, human story that’s less about a pissing contest as it is about the rocky road towards finding oneself. Easily one of my all-time favorite movie themes, so that never hurts any. And it’s very simply executed to boot. As usual, this is a low budget, no muss, no fuss production with a solid cast that knows the drill. No one really stands out above anyone else, but they all work well together in a lot of the same ways. At the end of the day, it’s a movie that knows its strengths, knows its limitations, and uses them to its advantage. It’s one of those movies that makes you feel good.

If this is your first introduction to a Duplass brothers joint, it’s not a bad place to start. Sure, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon could have done a way better job of capitalizing on the awesomeness of having two grown men going modern-day Greco-Roman on each other’s asses, but that gripe aside, there’s still a lot to enjoy. Like I said, it’s a lot like the other movies these guys have made, and it succeeds in a lot of the same ways. It’s really likable from its characters to its context, it’s commonplace yet surprisingly larger-than-life, and there’s truly something magnetic about how natural it all feels. But by the same token, I already like the Duplass brothers, and something tells me that probably helped. Doubt it’ll convert the non-believers, but worth a shot if you’re new to the choir.

Still, it’s no Kenny vs. Spenny. Then again, what is?

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