1996, PG-13, 114 min. Directed by Donald Petrie. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Dianne Wiest, Tim Daly, Bebe Neuwirth, Eli Wallach, Austin Pendleton.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 25, 1996
Whoopi Goldberg's career machinations remain a mystery to me, and this new film from the director of Grumpy Old Men only heightens the terminal suspense: When will she pick a decent comedy script? Apparently Jumping Jack Flash was just the starting point in a list of mediocre snafus that continues unabated. Here, Goldberg plays a Wall Street analyst -- Laurel Ayres -- fed up with the all-male status quo. After jumping ship from her stocks-and-bonds warhorse of a company after her scheming partner usurps her promotion, Ayres goes into business for herself. It's not long before she realizes she's still oppressed; despite her ingenious marketing strategies and tenacious financial savvy, Ayres seems destined to unceremonious brush-offs from the harried white males that make up her core target market. Then one day, in a sudden act of desperation, she invents a partner -- a white, male partner, by the name of Robert S. Cutty. Entirely fictional, Cutty acts as a front for Ayres' radically sound investment planning, and, finally, Ayres is granted access to the ruling elite. Business booms, and so does her partner's reputation, as Cutty begins to take on a life of his own, appearing (it would seem) on the cover of Time and various other media outlets. Meanwhile, poor Ayres is still getting the brush. Where this film is heading is never a surprise. Heavy-handed in the extreme, The Associate nearly clubs you to death with its stunningly simplistic moral tone and then tries to get you feeling guilty for not laughing as much as you should. The worst sort of cinematic palaver, Petrie's film nearly leaves bruises from all the sermonizing: “Women slap! and blacks slap! are treated unfairly slap! in the workplace slap!” It's almost grounds for a lawsuit. There's nothing new or interesting said about the film's genuinely important message, and the way Petrie and company yank the audience around as if on some sort of moral leash is disturbingly unpleasant and, ultimately, undermines the film's good intentions. I won't even go into the sloppy editing, ridiculous plot holes, and unintentionally cheesy use of a soundtrack -- there's just not enough room. Suffice to say Whoopi's comedy career is still on a descending arc.