Movie review: “The Double” might be derivative, but it at least found the right mix of influences

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From the May 29, 2014 edition

In Richard Ayoade’s “The Double,” Jesse Eisenberg plays a mousy, unsure man of little distinction, like he did in 2009’s “Zombieland.” He also plays a confident, charismatic dick, like he did in last year’s “Now You See Me.” It’s not a huge stretch for the actor, but the double-dip performance is nonetheless impressive, like much of Ayoade’s out-there, dystopian comedy.

Based on a Dostoevsky novella, “The Double” centers on Eisenberg’s Simon James, a worker drone in a steampunk fantasy of an office complex who’s so insignificant, his existence there barely registers. As he unsuccessfully courts the attention of his boss (Wallace Shawn) and Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the girl who runs the office copier, a new man comes on the job: James Simon (Eisenberg again).

No one seems to notice that the two men look exactly alike. They’re all too smitten with James, who impresses the boss by stealing Simon’s work and chases after every woman in sight. For his part, Simon does eventually get Hannah’s attention — when she asks him to help her get closer to James.

Harnessing David Lynch’s weird comic tone and sound design fetish, and Terry Gilliam’s way with production design that’s at once of this world and totally alien, Ayoade crafts each frame with control freakishness worthy of Wes Anderson. Sure, it’s derivative, but the mix of influences is a great match for the delicious frustration found in the script by Ayoade and Avi Korine (Harmony’s brother).

It crumbles a bit in the end, but Eisenberg’s dexterous handling of two disparate characters and Ayoade’s exacting style keep you watching.