Friday, 4 December 2020

Czech Film Review: Doubles, aka Doppelgängers

By Lee Robert Adams | Prague Daily Monitor |
30 September 2020

In 1999 Richard Jones, a resident of Kansas City, Missouri, was banged up for aggravated robbery. The crime took place across the state line in Kansas City, Kansas, where a woman was knocked to the ground in a Walmart car park by three muggers who made off with her phone. Jones claimed that he was home at the time, but eyewitnesses identified him as one of the culprits. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

17 years later, Jones was released after police traced the real perpetrator, Ricky Amos, Jones's "doppelgänger" who lived on the Kansas side of the city...

The idea of the doppelgänger, or a person's perfect double, has long caught the imagination and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of examples in literature, film and TV. More often than not, the appearance of a doppelgänger in a character's life spells trouble.

The well-worn concept is the subject of Jiří Chlumský's likeable crime comedy Doubles (Dvojníci). Ondřej Sokol has fun in a dual role as two men with a striking resemblance to one another: Honza Rambousek, a down-on-his-luck Prague thief in debt to his crime boss, and Richard Prospal, a mild-mannered teacher who is in town for a conference.

The two guys have never met before but, as is the way with this kind of movie, circumstance has a way of amusingly throwing them together. Rambousek's boss, Mr Vytloukal (Petr Nárožný, enjoying himself as a colourful villain in a bad leather jacket and a shoestring tie) runs a joint called the Boom-Boom Club, which appears to be a combination of herna bar and strip joint. He wants Rambousek to steal a valuable painting from a modern art exhibition.

Prospal is attending a conference with his gym teacher pal Kalina (Miroslav Etzler) and drags him along to a modern art exhibition. Kalina just wants to treat the trip as a "what happens in Prague stays in Prague" jolly, and has a whole bunch of pamphlets for strip joints and nightclubs he wants to check out. Prospal has no interest in going to such a place, but he reluctantly gives in. The pair head out to Kalina's pick - you've guessed it - the Boom-Boom Club.

After much comic confusion revolving around the art theft - Rambousek's moronic accomplice Melichar (Jakub Kohák, sporting a pirate-like look) manages to snatch the wrong painting - the pair contrive to switch lives. Rambousek, comprehending the situation quicker, realizes the perfect place to hide out is in his doppelgänger's cosy small-town life. This leaves Prospal, having lost his ID, stuck in Prague trying to avoid Mr Vytloukal's goons.

While there aren't too many surprises along the way, writers Petr Hudský and Milos Zahradník mine the situation effectively. Most of the laughs are found in Rambousek assuming the uptight teacher's life. Pretending to have mild amnesia from a blow to the head, the roguish thief thinks he's lucked out with Prospal's beautiful house and gorgeous wife and wastes no time making moves on the latter. However, he finds that teaching Prospal's classes is a lot tougher proposition...

The weaker section follows Prospal stuck in Rambousek's life, which stretches credibility even further - surely an educated man would be able to figure out a way back home, even without his money and ID? Luckily, he's taken in by hard-bitten but sympathetic Andrea (Simona Krainová), Rambousek's on-off girlfriend who works behind the bar at the Boom-Boom Club.

Doubles won't change your life, but it's a fun watch if you're in the mood for an amiable, light-hearted role-reversal romp. You could almost say that it's like a Czech doppelgänger of Face/Off, the zany Nicolas Cage-John Travolta action thriller, just without the two-handed gunplay, speed boat chases and gratuitous slow-motion dove shots. Almost...

***

Doubles, aka Doppelgängers, is showing on Czech Netflix at the time of writing.

Lee is a writer and film critic living in Brno. He studied film at uni, but dropped out halfway through because his tutor was always skiving off. He spent the next two decades using his half-education to passionately consume and write about movies. He has written for several outlets across the web, including the late-lamented Way Too Indie. In 2018 he founded Czech Film Review, approaching the cinema of his adopted home country from the perspective of a knowledgeable outsider.