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‘Taking Care of Business’ (R)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 17, 1990

"TAKING CARE of Business" certainly lives up to its title: The comedy, a variation on the old "Prince and the Pauper" switched-identities gag, is nothing if not businesslike.

Calculated and efficient, it adheres to a tight, tried-and-true formula: Character A meets uptight Character B through a set of wacky circumstances and teaches B how to loosen up and really live. (See also: "Something Wild," "Desperately Seeking Susan," "Big Business," et al.)

It's also unexpectedly likeable, thanks to the high-spirited performances of stars James Belushi and Charles Grodin, under the relaxed direction by Arthur Hiller.

Belushi plays a convicted car thief (37 counts of grand theft auto) and baseball fanatic called Jimmy Dworski, who's due to be released from minimum-security prison in 60 hours. Dworski wins a pair of tickets on a radio call-in show to the World Series, featuring his beloved Cubs, but the Series is tomorrow. Not only that, the vindictive warden has taken away everyone's TV privileges. What would you do?

Grodin is yupwardly mobile workaholic Spencer Barnes ("I've worked hard to work this hard") who hasn't seen his wife in quite a while, and when he's sent on assignment on the eve of their long-scheduled vacation, she walks. Barnes leaves his Filofax datebook -- his life-support system -- at an airport phone booth, where it is discovered by . . . you guessed it.

Now, Dworski's really a decent guy -- he just intends to collect the promised $1,000 reward for the Filofax. But once he begins to capitalize on the good life offered by Barnes's identity and credit cards, with perks like a Sharper Image dream home and dates with the boss's daughter, it goes without saying that he takes care of Barnes's business a bit differently.

Belushi's screen persona is an uncanny combination of the barely contained physical exuberance of his late brother John and the sly, gauche charm of Bill Murray. Though he sometimes seems desperate to please with his puppyish, overgrown-boy act, he somehow makes much of Dworski's obnoxiousness appealing.

For his part, Grodin retains his title as the whitest man in America, playing another in a series of insufferably anal WASP whiners. His Barnes is the kind of guy who schedules marital sex on his day planner.

A project of Hollywood Films, Disney's new movies-for-grownups company, "Taking Care of Business" is carefully spiced with a brief flash of now-you-see-it nudity here, a smidge of harmless profanity there, and in an unfortunate sign of the times, one character thanks another for "the best safe sex I ever had."

There are no real surprises in the amiably lightweight script, but when Barnes is seated next to a husband-hungry high school acquaintance on a plane or when Dworski commits a gradually escalating series of gaucheries as he navigates "power words" and business dinners, "Taking Care of Business" has the hilarious horrors of white-collar culture down cold.

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