Midwesterner John Byrum studied at NYU's film school and entered the industry as a screenwriter with the forgettable "Have a Nice Weekend" (1975). He got his first chance to direct with the poorly-rec...
Kind of like "The Hustler" for the bouncing-ball set "Duets" unevenly follows six characters: the small-town singer headed for Hollywood (Maria Bello); the young cabbie searching for integrity (Scott Speedman); the ex-con with the voice of an angel (Andre Braugher); the burned-out salesman with a new lease on life (Paul Giamatti); and the karaoke hustler (Huey Lewis) who learns he has a daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow). Working their way through the interstates and karaoke bars of middle America they each pair up and come together to compete for the $5000 grand prize in a karaoke contest.
Believe it or not each person in this film uses his/her own voice in the musical segments and it works. Paltrow whispers a credible "Bette Davis Eyes " but has little more to do in her supporting role than hang around Huey like a lost puppy. Lewis ("Short Cuts") who looks like he'll break out with "Hip to be Square" at any moment should stick to singing. Bello ("Coyote Ugly") projects confidence as the wannabe star with a golden deep throat but overshadows cabbie partner Speedman who blends into the scenery with the lightest role of the chorus. Braugher ("Homicide: Life on the Street") is a believable threat as the crooning con. He's paired with borderline psychopath Giamatti who pleasantly steals the entire show. Seizing the best role Giamatti delivers an infectious high-energy performance while singing with impressive grace and range.
Effectively immersing the audience into the world of karaoke Bruce Paltrow (father of Gwyneth producer/writer/director of "St. Elsewhere" and "The White Shadow") injects unexpected life into an otherwise very shaky story line. This is a film that could have gone horribly wrong -- and almost does -- but somehow mysteriously Paltrow pulls it off. His attention to quirky detail and love for these thinly drawn characters shines through the unevenness of the story and poorly calculated lapses into serious violent territory. Though the film runs a bit long the fun lively atmosphere and vocal enthusiasm of the actors -- specifically Giamatti -- keeps "Duets" from losing the contest.
Created, executive produced and wrote episodes of the short-lived CBS series "Middle Ages"
Screenwriting debut, "Have a Nice Weekend"
Served as executive producer, creator and writer of the NBC primetime soap "Winnetka Road"
TV debut as writer and director with the "Night Caller" episode of NBC's "Alfred Hitchcock Presents"
Adapted and directed the remake of "The Razor's Edge", starring Bill Murray
Wrote and directed "Heart Beat", about writers Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac
Directorial debut, "Inserts"; also scripted
Penned the script for "Duets" (2000) which was to have paired Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow onscreen; film went before the cameras in 1999 with Paltrow starring and her father Brice directing; Scott Speedman had assumed the role earmarked for Pitt
Directed last feature to date, "The Whoopee Boys"
Executive produced, created and scripted "South of Sunset", a CBS series canceled after one airing
Midwesterner John Byrum studied at NYU's film school and entered the industry as a screenwriter with the forgettable "Have a Nice Weekend" (1975). He got his first chance to direct with the poorly-received "Inserts" (1975), which featured Richard Dreyfuss as a once-famous Hollywood director now reduced to shooting porno films. After penning the Diana Ross vehicle "Mahogany" (1976), Byrum wrote and directed "Heart Beat" (1979), the highly fictionalized, triangular romance of Beat writers Neal Cassady, Carolyn Cassady and Jack Kerouac. The film won a mixed reception, with most heaping praise on the lead performances of Nick Nolte and Sissy Spacek. The 1984 remake of "The Razor's Edge" (1984) featured comedian Bill Murray in a rare dramatic role. Byrum fashioned a lavishly designed production that, while adequate, paled in comparison with the original. Reviews were harsh and audiences stayed away. After the failure of the crass comedy "The Whoopee Boys" (1986, his last directorial outing to date), Byrum turned to the small screen.
His TV output has hardly been prolific but it has yielded interesting, if spotty results. After debuting with the "Night Caller" episode of NBC's remake of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (1985), Byrum created, directed and co-executive produced the interesting 1991 NBC pilot "Murder in High Places", with a central character of a gonzo journalist loosely inspired by Hunter S Thompson. While the network passed on the series, Byrum had better luck with his sophomore effort, the critically-praised but low-rated "Middle Ages" (CBS, 1992), about a group of aging baby boomers in Chicago. "South of Sunset" (CBS, 1993), a detective show built around singer-turned-actor Glenn Frey, received only one airing before it was yanked from the schedule. The primetime soap "Winnetka Road" (NBC, 1994), set in the Midwest, had its champions, but viewers tuned it out and it too was quickly canceled. More recently, Byrum wrote scripts for the UPN series "The Watcher" (1995) and was the screenwriter for "Duets" a project originally set to star then-engaged Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt. After the couple's breakup, the project went into turnaround before it finally went before the cameras in 1999 with Paltrow now teamed with TV star Scott Speedman under the direction of her father Bruce.