Taking Care of Business

How can you tell you’re watching a phony-baloney comedy? Easy: When someone on screen reaches for a bottle of Evian water. Recent Hollywood movies have been awash in this stuff. It often seems as if a character can’t come in from jogging without opening the fridge and pulling out that trademark bubble-ridged container — which he swigs from directly, avoiding the germ-risk alternative of actually using a glass. What a typical Evian Moment tells you is that the characters are cut from the same cloth as the people who made the movie, i.e., highly paid Southern California health freaks. For a brief, irrelevant instant, we’re meant to sit back and admire them for it.

In the lamely synthetic identity mix-up farce Taking Care of Business, James Belushi’s Evian Moment comes midway through, when he’s sitting in a marble bathtub. Belushi plays a convicted car thief who has snuck out of prison, stumbled onto the lost Filofax of an advertising executive (Charles Grodin), and used it to take the executive’s place. Surprise! — Belushi’s street-smart honesty makes him an inadvertent wizard at business. Soon he’s enjoying all the perks that help an overworked executive through his day: cellular phones, Jacuzzis, a luxurious Malibu beach house, helicopter rides to business meetings, gorgeous blonds, and — of course — Evian.

The plot is déjà vu all over again, another variation on the proletarian-joker-goes-yuppie formula used in Trading Places, The Secret of My Success, and Opportunity Knocks. In Taking Care of Business, the formula gets boiled down to its bare bones. The movie is nothing but a series of executive signifiers — it should have been called The Trappings of My Success.

Taking Care of Business represents Disney Studios’ latest attempt to transform a foundering star into a bankable commodity. Having turned the trick with Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler, and (heaven help us) Richard Gere, the Disney folks appear to be upping the odds: They’ve taken a guy who was never quite a star — the aimiable Neanderthal Lite Jim Belushi — and attempted to inject him with charisma by slimming him down and giving him a better haircut. Yet he’s still not a very interesting actor. For all his party-hearty exuberance, Belushi drifts around in the mid-range somewhere, never quite explosive and crazy like his brother John (whom he occasionally imitates here) and not enough of a verbal spritzer to lend his con-man routines the requisite spark. With Belushi, every night is bowling night.

By all rights, Grodin should have stolen the picture as Spencer Barnes, the addled workaholic who’s a fish out of water without his Filofax. But Grodin is stranded, too. For once, his moroseness seems more genuine than satirical. The screenplay was cowritten by Jill Mazursky (along with Jeffrey Abrams); her father, Paul Mazursky, served as executive producer. When you consider that Mazursky senior is one of the great comedy directors in Hollywood, the witlessness of Taking Care of Business is doubly surprising. Maybe all that Evian water does go to your head. D

Taking Care of Business
  • Movie
  • 107 minutes