Five minutes into Sliding Doors, Gwyneth Paltrow splits in two. Had this amoeba-like fission occured throughout the film at five-minute intervals, it would have spawned 1,048,576 Gwyneths (I did the math; I was bored). Writer-director Peter Howitt’s high concept isn’t nearly as disturbing–he simply flip-flops between two versions of the same woman in an oafishly whimsical reverie about romantic destiny.
The pivotal replication happens on the London Underground, moments after Helen (Paltrow) has lost her job as a publicist. Helen 1–who catches her train–meets dream man James (John Hannah), arrives home in time to find scummy boyfriend Jerry (John Lynch) in bed with his megabitch ex Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn), dumps the bastard, gets a fetching blond do, and sets up her own PR firm. Helen 2–who misses the train and is mugged immediately after–is reduced to delivering sandwiches and waiting tables, takes to wearing her brown hair in pigtails, and (though she doesn’t seem to be having sex with Jerry) becomes pregnant.
Paltrow, if nothing else, sports a convincing enough English accent–listen for her pitch-perfect utterances of twat, shag, and bollocks. Hannah’s James is a wisecracking blabbermouth who thinks he’s much funnier than he is (come back, Hugh Grant, all is forgiven). Worst off, Tripplehorn is required to play an irredeemably grotesque Other Woman and speak some of the worst lines in film history (one metaphor-choked tantrum has her catching the “Jerry Express” out of “Limbo Central” and “Indecision City”). Unduly smug about its flashy conceit and otherwise utterly empty, the film plays like lobotomized Kieslowski, less Blind Chance than dumb luck.