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Strictly Business
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by Jack Sommersby

"Low-Key, Bouncy Comedy"
4 stars

Doesn't have any powerhouse names in the cast, and the story is far from a grabber, but it makes for good Saturday-afternoon viewing.

The engaging eighty-two-minute comedy Strictly Business may not add up to much, but coming after John Singleton's trite Boyz n the Hood and Matty Rich's excellent Straight Out of Brooklyn, it's a welcome reprieve from those violence-laden melodramas released earlier in the year that painted such bleak portraits of African-American life. Set in Manhattan's high-pressure, high-stakes business world, the movie's heroes aren't trying to escape poverty and/or gang activity, but to ascend to greater heights in the city's leading real-estate brokerage. One is the firm's up-and-coming, Ivy League-educated executive Waymon Tinsdale III (Joseph C. Wilson) striving to make partner, and the other community-college-graduate mailroom worker Bobby Johnson (Tommy Davidson) who's been waiting on Tinsdale to put him in the training program for the past two years; Waymon's a rigid workaholic who doesn't take time out to enjoy life outside of the office, and Bobby's irresponsible and doesn't take his job as seriously as he should -- he wants to leapfrog from letter-sorting to power lunches without putting in the necessary effort. When Waymon becomes infatuated with the lovely Natalie (Halle Berry), a woman who's been fired as hostess at the posh restaurant he frequents and who happens to be an acquaintance of Bobby's, he enlists Bobby's help in getting him a date with her, and in exchange he'll see that Bobby gets a chance at climbing the corporate ladder. Not much, I'll admit, but Strictly Business is refreshingly devoid of ultra-cynicism and grandiose statements on the fragility of the human condition; it may paint in broad strokes, but it doesn't stoop to (pardon the expression) black-and-white stereotyping. It also has something of a genuine stake in its characters, and that counts for a lot. It's fun seeing Waymon loosen up and try mingling with Bobby's people in Harlem, a part of town he's never before frequented ("Hey, Home Dudes, what is going on?"), and because Wilson plays him so ingratiatingly, you can't help but root for his character to succeed. As Bobby, Davidson is breezy and assured and always ready with a well-barbed quip, and Berry's appealing luxuriousness justifies Waymon's interest. The screenwriters Pam Gibson and Nelson George have written reasonably bright dialogue (if a bit didactic at times), and the director, Kevin Hooks, making his feature-film debut after eight years in television, keeps everything hopping along just fine (though the timing is occasionally off). It's not exactly an Other People's Money, but it's agile, agreeable stuff all the same.

A good date movie.

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originally posted: 08/03/13 22:14:42
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  08-Nov-1991 (PG-13)



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