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MOVIE REVIEW

The Devil’s Double

Body double trouble with a son of Saddam

In “The Devil’s Double,’’ Dominic Cooper plays Uday, one of Saddam Hussein’s sons, as well as his body double. In “The Devil’s Double,’’ Dominic Cooper plays Uday, one of Saddam Hussein’s sons, as well as his body double. (Sofie Van Mieghem/Lionsgate)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / August 5, 2011

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Bring Wet-Naps to “The Devil’s Double.’’ It’s coated and fried in the same batter KFC uses for Extra Crispy chicken. The movie might be greasier, actually.

It’s set in Iraq amid the first US invasion in 1991. One evening, as the war booms outside, the most luscious and French-sounding of Uday Hussein’s many women shows up at the quarters of the former schoolmate conscripted to be Uday’s body double. She climbs atop him, and they begin to make the sort of bomb-lit love you’d expect to see in a music video from 1988. The entire movie is like this: Extra Crispy MTV.

The British actor Dominic Cooper plays Uday, who was the more sadistic of Saddam Hussein’s two sons. He is also Latif Yahia, the double who, until that sex scene, we had come to pity. Latif has barely returned from fighting Iran, when Uday forces him into service. The job is non-negotiable, requires some plastic surgery, and a dental plate of big, gapped teeth. Latif has to make public appearances and, during the invasion, give speeches denouncing the Kuwaitis as oil-grubbers. He can’t ever see his family again, and should he touch the comely creature that won’t stop slinking his way - the one from the aforementioned bomb-lit coitus, who’s embodied by Ludivine Sagnier - Uday will hit the roof.

Yes, it’s that sort of movie, the sort in which war, torture, and mass destruction are the backdrop for an excerpt from “Horrible Bosses.’’ It’s taken from Yahia’s account of his time enslaved to Uday, who was killed in a firefight with US forces in 2003. Michael Thomas wrote the script, which includes the usual fabrications - like Sagnier’s character, Sarrab, who’s very much a device and very much a composite of the women Uday might have raped and abused, and also of every woman in a music video who’s ever cleaned a car hood with her fanny.

The director Lee Tamahori is a New Zealander who specializes in hopped-up action movies. The “XXX’’ sequel with Ice Cube, Pierce Brosnan’s final James Bond movie, and the Nicolas Cage turkey “Next’’ are all his. “The Devil’s Double’’ is Tamahori’s hoppiest movie yet. He stages slow-motion shoot-outs at open-air markets and in front of fruit stands (because there’s really no place else to shoot a gun in the Middle East). He spends what feels like a fifth of the movie in a nightclub watching people dance to such disco chestnuts as “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’’ and “Relax.’’ He luxuriates in the spacious fabulousness of Uday’s compound-oasis. He luxuriates in that sex scene. He luxuriates in the flamboyant, coked-up obnoxiousness of Uday.

You get the sense that Tamahori read Yahia’s book or Thomas’s script and saw an opportunity to make a “Scarface ’’ of his own. “The Devil’s Double’’ is not an epic, and it isn’t the story of national character the way Brian De Palma wanted his movie to be. It is - with its scenes of torture, garroting, and shooting - just as violent, ridiculous, and ridiculously violent. This is a movie that wears too much cologne on purpose. It has its shirt open to its navel. It uses spray-on tan like lotion. It walks to the mailbox in 8-inch heels. It’s shamelessly, wantonly trashy. Which is to say that, under the circumstances, it’s also nauseating in the same way that “The Last King of Scotland’’ was. A dictator and his family become the stars of a potboiler. (The Australian actor Philip Quast has a few scenes as Saddam. Arab actors fill lesser roles as guards, stooges, and right-hand men.) In both movies an outsider enters the world of an evil madman and tries to resist his magnetism. But “The Devil’s Double’’ lets Cooper play James McAvoy and Forest Whitaker - the scold and the lunatic, safe and crazy.

In both roles, Cooper owns the audience. As Uday, he whines and barks at the same time. The character is coked-up, oversexed, frequently armed, and in love with himself. Once, Uday shouts his lines as he power-dances his way through a nightclub in a black sequined jacket and sunglasses, a stogie in his mouth, and a hand ready to grab the derriere of every lady in sight. He doesn’t even have to look. The hand is heat-seeking. Later, he throws a tantrum in a suede cowboy hat, Hawaiian-print shirt, and clashing short-shorts. It’s his Hunter S. Thompson Halloween costume. As Latif, Cooper occupies the moral foreground, smoldering with exasperation.

You don’t mind that you can always see exactly where the putty prosthesis has been affixed to his nose or that neither accent sounds terribly convincing for long. It’s not a great performance. It’s a window that just opens onto a wall. But the wall is covered in fake blood and graffiti, and that’s something. It’s possible Tamahori told Cooper, “This is your Tony Montana!’’ If ever there were an occasion for “Say hello to my little friend,’’ this is it. Still, the actor doesn’t reach Mount Pacino, though Cooper’s charismatic gun waving and leather-office-chair slumping should be Pacino-certified. The two parts just split Cooper’s ability to emotionally complicate either role. Which is to the liking of this absurd entertainment. It gives a torturer, rapist, and murderer the Looney Tunes treatment.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/wesley_morris.

THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE

Directed by: Lee Tamahori

Written by: Michael Thomas, adapted from the memoir

by Latif Yahia

Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier,

and Philip Quast

At: Kendall Square

and Boston Common

Running time: 108 minutes

Rated: R (language, scenes of sex and maniacal graphic violence)

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