Owen Gleiberman
November 22, 1991 AT 05:00 AM EST

Strictly Business

Current Status
In Season
83 minutes
Halle Berry, Tommy Davidson, Joseph C. Phillips
Kevin Hooks
Warner Bros.
Comedy, Romance

We gave it a C-

It’s nice that Hollywood has finally discovered that black people exist, but the downside is antiseptic comedies like Strictly Business, which prove that movies about blacks can be every bit as shallow and fraudulent as movies about whites. In this plastic knockoff of Working Girl, The Secret of My Success, and a dozen forgotten boardroom farces starring people like Judge Reinhold and James Belushi, an ambitious young real estate broker (Joseph C. Phillips) is thrown off his yuppie trajectory by the gorgeous waitress (Halle Berry) he’s too square to date. He pursues her with the aid of his office protege, a wisecracking club kid (Tommy Davidson) who works in the mailroom and shows him how to loosen up (i.e., ditch the Brooks Brothers suits).

The movie plays off the same assimilation anxieties that the recent Livin’ Large! did. In this case, though, the hero has been made so bland and polite, so terminally middle-of-the-road, so generically, symbolically white, that he’s like a walking Ken doll. As his mailroom accomplice, Davidson, from TV’s In Living Color, is all sourpuss double takes and lisping homeboy shtick. Cliches may seem harmless enough, but given the dearth of decent roles for black actors, is there really that much difference between a character like the inner-city cartoon Davidson is playing and the jive-talking pimps Robert Townsend lampooned in Hollywood Shuffle? It’s about time that Hollywood stopped trying to jerk laughs from bogus dichotomies between The Boardroom and The Street and started acknowledging that most people in this country, black and white alike, live somewhere in between. C-

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