Can't Danny DeVito make a movie where people just play nice? Having repeatedly proven he has an aptitude -- or maybe just a fondness -- for black comedy (War of the Roses, Death to Smoochy), in Duplex, DeVito revisits the old lady abuse from his directorial debut Throw Momma From the Train. But he's hardened over the years -- this harridan doesn't prove to be pitiable and misunderstood by the end. And as Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore's Alex and Nancy become increasingly desperate to expel their elderly upstairs neighbor, the movie just feels more and more like another exercise in DeVito's bitter brand of masochism. But at the start, this project had the potential to be better than that. Stiller is a veteran of these everyday situations gone awry, and Barrymore ably complements him during the film's softer, more likeable first half. The problem with these comedies of escalation is that they must eventually go over the top, and Duplex gets there super-early, with prejudice. There's no doubt who earns audience sympathy -- Eileen Essell's Mrs. Connelly is maddeningly capricious, especially when she disguises herself as a kind and helpless senior citizen. It's not that a person wouldn't want to kill her, just that DeVito takes the fun out of it, as it were. What's left is a crazed Stiller and Barrymore hatching recklessly murderous schemes that backfire on them violently. The ways they come unglued are as sadly familiar as DeVito's career-long preoccupation with misanthropy.