'Strictly Business' has merit, but in the end lacks enough funny business


"Strictly Business" is a sociologically important film. Dramatically, however, it is little more than trivial.

Directed by Kevin Hooks, the new film is obvious more than subtle, and subtlety is what the movie needs. It is also badly acted in some instances, ragged in others.

"Strictly Business" is really a redo of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," or "Secret of My Success," if you want a more recent example.

The difference here is that the principals are black. But the

principals just happen to be black. Their problems and goals are those of any group.

Joseph C. Phillips is one of the lead characters. He is a young man on his way up the executive ladder at a real estate corporation. Like the hero in "Ghost," he is betrayed by a rival who plays with the computer and makes Waymon (Phillips) look bad.

Not to fear. The villain is exposed, and Waymon is back in business professionally.

Romantically, however, he is in trouble. He is supposed to be engaged to a calculating, scheming woman (Anne Marie Johnson), but he has fallen for Natalie (Halle Berry), an aspiring actress who glides through the film like a vision. No wonder he is entranced.

Waymon's fiancee, meanwhile, is not entranced, and she comes on strong, too strong for the film. This is where Hicks and Johnson should have worked with more delicacy. As drawn, Diedre (Johnson) is much too hard, much too obvious to fool anyone, beginning with Waymon.

Sociologically, "Strictly Business" is important because it marks change in the direction of the black movie maker. A few 'D decades ago, the screen was home to a wave of black action or "exploitation" films, movies that starred people like Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Richard Roundtree as crime fighters.

The "exploitation" films were followed by the more naturalistic, race-concerned Spike Lee films, movies that inspired other black writer-directors to enter the business. These films, like those done by Lee, were primarily concerned with social imbalance.

Next came the "nabe" films like "Boyz 'N the Hood," "Straight Out of Brooklyn" and "Hangin with the Home Boys." Now, it's movies like "Livin' Large," "House Party 2" and "Strictly Business," comedies in which the black characters are making it in the white-black world.

For this reason, "Strictly Business" is important. As a production intended to amuse and entertain, however, it falls short. It is supposed to be funny but isn't, despite the contributions of Tommy Davidson as a mail clerk who intends to work his way up, Berry as Natalie, and John Cypher as the head of the corporation.

7+ "Strictly Business" opens here today.

"Strictly Business"

** A young man on his way up the executive ladder is sabotaged by a fellow employee.

CAST: Tommy Davidson, Joseph C. Phillips, Anne Marie Johnson, Jon Cypher, Halle Berry

DIRECTOR: Kevin Hooks

RATING: R (language, sex)

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