There are four excellent reasons to see "Multiplicity," and they're all named Michael Keaton. Not that he's the only asset of this cloning-around comedy, but the tale of a harried family man who splits to avoid cracking up is an undeniable showcase for the actor.

There are four excellent reasons to see “Multiplicity,” and they’re all named Michael Keaton. Not that he’s the only asset of this cloning-around comedy, but the tale of a harried family man who splits to avoid cracking up is an undeniable showcase for the actor. The picture provides hilarious complications to the arithmetic mayhem and will be one of the strongest performers in the second half of the summer, its inventive edge standing up to the barrage of flashier effects pics.

Doug Kinney (Keaton) is the movie’s idea of a typical married guy. He has a relatively senior job at a construction firm, an attractive wife, Laura (Andie MacDowell), and two kids. Where he diverges from the norm is in temperament: When he’s backed to the wall, Doug explodes. Needless to say, he’s presently under a lot of stress.

As luck would have it, one of his current jobs is refurbishing the Gemini Institute, a center for genetic research. Its director, Dr. Owen Leeds (Harris Yulin), notices Doug’s mood swings and tells him he can “perform miracles,” and presents an exact duplicate of himself in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. The prospect of having time for work, his family and himself is just too good for Doug to pass up.

The script by Chris Miller, Mary Hale, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel comes up with intriguing and logical rules for this experiment. The clone starts out with the same knowledge and experiential base as the original, but as it goes its separate way, the copy takes on unique qualities.

Doug 2 is set up in the detached guest house so that neither wife nor kids will be aware of his existence. The next morning, the original Doug arrives at work only to realize his mirror self has been on the job for two hours. Doug slinks back to the house and assumes a “Mr. Mom” role. But a couple of weeks later, when he tires of the routine, he’s told flat out by his workaholic clone that too much has transpired on the job for him to step smoothly back into the workplace. The solution: Keep on cloning.

Keaton is the linchpin in this marriage of script, technical wizardry and performance. Doug’s offshoots represent “macho,””feminine” and “childlike” aspects of his persona. The brilliance of the piece is in the actor’s deft method of keeping the differences subtle enough to avoid the obvious and appropriately broad to convey the humor of each situation. It is a true tour de force.

Director Harold Ramis periodically gets caught up in set pieces of hilarious invention at the expense of the narrative. There’s an unnecessarily assertive, heavy-handed quality behind the lens, but Keaton, the luminescent MacDowell and a delightful supporting cast bring the proceedings back to Earth.

It’s not quite fair to say that Keaton is the whole movie. Still, “Multiplicity” would be greatly diminished with anyone else in the central roles.

Multiplicity

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation of a Trevor Albert production. Produced by Albert, Harold Ramis. Executive producer , Lee R. Mayes. Co-producer, Whitney White. Directed by Harold Ramis. Screenplay, Chris Miller, Mary Hale, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, based on the short story by Chris Miller.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Laszlo Kovacs; editors, Pem Herring, Craig Herring; music, George Fenton; production design, Jackson DeGovia; art direction, Geoff Hubbard; set decoration, K.C. Fox; costume design, Shay Cunliffe; visual effects supervisor, Richard Edlund; sound (Dolby SR, SDDS), Dennis L. Maitland; associate producer, Suzanne Herrington; assistant director, Michael Haley; casting, Howard Feuer. Reviewed at Sony Studios, Culver City, July 1, 1996. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 117 min.

With

Doug Kinney - Michael Keaton
Laura Kinney - Andie MacDowell
Dr. Owen Leeds - Harris Yulin
Del King - Richard Masur
Vic - Eugene Levy
Noreen - Ann Cusack
Ted - John deLancie
Walt - Brian Doyle-Murray
Robin - Julie Bowen
Jennifer Kinney - Katie Schlossberg
Zack Kinney - Zack Duhame
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