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Bland Ambition BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS Directed by Arthur Hiller THE TWO JAKES Directed by Jack Nicholson VEN AS Hollywood was being raided, traded, and consolidated by vast con glomerates for which movies, like airlines, hotels, and soft drinks, are com modities, American capitalists were also becoming scoundrels on the screen. In Wall Street, Tucker, Tin Men, Baby Boom, Gung Ho, Pretty Woman, and many other commer cial dramas, the business of American busi ness is portrayed as obsessive at best and much worse at worst. The premise behind last spring’s Crazy People is that advertising is licensed mendacity; it takes a bunch of mental patients to employ the radical tactic of candor in order to sell a client’s products. Midway through Taking Care of Business, an escaped convict disguised as an account executive takes a potential client, Japanese he insists: “Honesty is the key to success.” What does he think of Sakamoto’s High Quality Foods? “Your oatmeal sucks … Your bread just rips apart … If you want to be honest, you should call it Low Quality Foods.” Predictably, the business meeting explodes, and, just as predictably, we know that integrity in business will be restored by the final reel, in time for us to purchase other items marketed by Disney, which owns Hollywood Pictures, the film’s producer. Taking Care of Business is a fantasy about two of the most powerful forces in American society: class and cash. You know it is a fantasy because it concludes with a World Series victory by the Chicago Cubs. It also provides a petty thief named Jimmy Dworski high life of Malibu, while it gives fanatical the taste of life in a garbage bin. Parallel cuts between the bizarre experiences of the two characters provide the film with its structure. The importance and pointlessness of taking care of business provide the moral. “You’re like a case study in obsessive behavior,” declares Elizabeth Spencer \(Vewho learns that she must forgo another weekend outing because her husband has an urgent assignment. “I’ve worked hard to work hard,” explains Spencer, who is told by his Steven Kellman is an associate professor of comparative literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio. boss that he will gain a senior vice presidency if he flies to L.A. and lands the Sakamoto account that weekend. Walter Bentley, the boss, would take care of this business himself except that he is in the hospital with coronary problems. Meanwhile, back at the prison, a minimum-security facility outside Los Angeles, Jimmy is desperate to make use of the World Series tickets he has won in a radio contest. As the Series begins this weekend, at Anaheim Stadium, before his 36-month sentence for car theft ends, Jimmy must find some ruse to slip away from jail. With a little help from his friends, and perhaps a leaf from the escape in Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion, Jimmy sneaks off while his fellow inmates stage a strike to divert the guards. In the world of novice screenwriters Jill Mazursky and Jeffrey Abrams, there is more honor among thieves than businessmen. There might also be less thievery. When Spencer loses his precious Filofax, the schedule book that is crammed with credit cards and the key to Walter’s Malibu mansion, Jimmy finds it, and the rest of the film is a variation on Trading Places. Like Bottom awakening to find himself adored by the Queen of the Fairies, Jimmy moves into a world of swimming pools, expensive cars, nubile women, and power meals. Spencer finds himself down and out miles from Beverly Hills, even briefly in the local jail. Though director Arthur Hiller’s pacing is not always inspired, much of this is very funny, thanks to finely complementary performances by Belushi and Grodin. Much is also preposterous or glib. Jimmy’s blue-collar preference is for baseball, yet when he is called upon to play the patrician sport of tennis, he is able to wallop his seasoned opponent by swinging his racquet like a bat, as though finesse were an effete fetish of the financial elite. Walter’s daughter Jewel love with the ersatz Spencer, precisely because his imitation of grey-flannel greed is not too faithful: “You’re not the typical anal Yuppie I guess I was expecting.” Jewel and Elizabeth analyze their men as succinctly as if they were offering up a treatment to an impatient producer peevish about the bottom line. Taking Care of Business is a sparkling play on stereotypes, a profitable fable about the dangers of professional ambition, though much still has the perfunctory feel of a treatment for which the writers did not bother to find a cure. After Jimmy and Spencer reconverge, it disintegrates into the sentimentality of a buddy film and the promise of capitalism with a human face. We are left with a flaccid conclusion that takes too seriously its own lesson: Loosen up. INFIDELITY MADE ME what I am in the opening line of The Two Jakes, a baroque contrivance with more lines than a Moscow marketplace. Like Chinatown, the further adventures of Jack Nicholson in the moral tar pit that is southern California begin with private eye Gittes making his living by documenting a case of marital infidelity. Chinatown might have seemed satisfying when first released, but 16 years later, you’re hungry again. While The Two Jakes cannot resurwas shot dead in the closing moments of Chinatown, the daughter who witnessed it is back, grown, and the center of a mystery. The year is 1948, and Jake, a veteran of World War II, has acquired a fiance, some bulk, and membership in the country club. But he still makes his living out of human treachery and misery, and there is plenty of it in boom-town Los Angeles. If water was the fluid of selfish gain in Chinatown, look to oil as the solution of personal frustration in the sequel. Like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, where private interests derail public transportation, screenwriter Robert Towne again presents southern California as a region of moral pollution. Orange groves are being paved over, and oil derricks emit the reek of corruption. “In this town s I’m the leper with the most fingers,” says Jake. There is a second Jake, a real-estate develwho has hired Gittes to track his wife’s adultery. “If I waited for an honest client, I’d be sitting around until Rocky Graziano played Rachmaninoff at the Hollywood Bowl,” says the first Jake, who has many clients. Berman is a bounder, out to make a buck from returning veterans eager to buy a tract in the suburbs. If selling to Mexicans is bad for business, he will not show them a house. Nor will he allow a Jew to move in, though he is himself a Jew. Gittes soon discovers that Berman has played him for a sucker. After being brought to the motel where his wife man, Berman shoots the interloper. However, what looks to be a legally justifiable homicide, a wronged husband acting impulsively out of jealous rage, is something quite different. The dead man turns out to have been Berman’s business partner Bodine, his shooting to have been carefully planned. Most of The Two Jakes teases us with the question: Why? Why should we care is, instead, the ques 22 AUGUST 31, 1990