A Movie A Day #250: Taking Care of Business (1990, directed by Arthur Hiller)

Jimmy Dworski (Jim Belushi) is a convicted car thief who only has a few days left in his criminal sentence but still decides to break out of prison so he can go see the Cubs play in the World Series.  Spencer Barnes (Charles Grodin) is an uptight ad executive who needs to learn how to relax and have a good time.  When Spencer loses his organizer, Jimmy finds it.  Before you can say “The prince and the pauper,” Jimmy has access to all of Spencer’s money and the mansion that Spencer is supposed to be staying at over the weekend.  While Spencer tries to survive on the streets and track down his organizer, Jimmy is living it up, spending money, impressing a Japanese businessman (Mako), romancing the boss’s daughter, and taking care of business.

Made in the uncertain period between the end of the culture of 80s materialism and the start of the 90s indie boom, Taking Care of Business is a rip-off of Trading Places that came out six years too late to be effective.  Everything that needs to be known about Jimmy and Spencer is apparentl from the minute that Charles Grodin’s and Jim Belushi’s names appear in the credits.  Grodin was usually the best when it came to playing uptight yuppies but he seems bored in Taking Care of Business.  Belushi mugs through his role, overplaying his character’s blue collar roots.  The movie builds up to a huge confrontation between Belushi and Grodin but it never really delivers, instead devolving into a predictable buddy comedy, complete with a trip to Wrigley Field and an elaborate plan to sneak Belushi back into prison before the warden (Hector Elizondo) discovers that he’s been gone for the weekend.  Taking Care of Business has a few laughs but it’s never as good as the BTO song.

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: A Neighbor’s Deception (dir by Devon Downs and Kenny Gage)

(I’m currently cleaning out my DVR and right now, I kinda suspect that a comic book movie might get a best picture nomination before I ever get finished.  By that, I mean that this is taking forever!  But, no matter!  I’m having fun.  Anyway, I recorded A Neighbor’s Deception off of Lifetime on April 8th.)

Welcome to the neighborhood!

And what a neighborhood it is.  Big house, big yards, big SUVs, and … wait, where are all the people?  Chloe (Ashley Bell) and Michael Anderson (Adam Mayfield) have just bought a new house in this neighborhood and everything should be perfect.  Chloe has had her struggles and, from the first minute we see her, it’s obvious that she’s not exactly stable.  She’s nervous and a bit too quick to smile.  Michael feels that the new neighborhood will be perfect for Chloe.

While Michael goes to work during the day, Chloe runs and takes pictures.  It’s a beautiful neighborhood, surrounded by wonderful scenery.  And yet, there’s something off about it.  The streets and sidewalks often seem to be strangely deserted  The first time that Chloe sees her neighbor, he’s driving past her and he barely acknowledges her.

It’s not until later that Chloe and Michael finally meet their neighbors face-to-face.  Gerald (Tom Amandes) and Cheryl Dixon (Isabella Hoffman) seems like their friendly enough but there are hints that everything may not be perfect with them.  For one thing, Gerald is considerably more friendly than Cheryl.  Gerald is also a retired psychologist and starts to counsel Chloe for free.  He says he’s just doing it to be a good neighbor but are his motives truly pure?

That’s what Chloe being to wonder.  It doesn’t help that she’s soon getting mysterious phone calls from a man who blames Gerald for the death of his sister.  The man wants Chloe to investigate Gerald and his past.  Chloe agrees but is her paranoia justified or, as Michael suggests, is she on the verge of having another breakdown?

Written by noted horror expert Adam Rockoff, A Neighbor’s Deception is a hundred times more creepy than the usual Lifetime film.  Wisely, both the script and the direction puts the emphasis on atmosphere.  That big and oddly empty neighborhood becomes as much of a character as Chloe, Michael, Gerald, and Cheryl.  This is one of those films that seems to have literally been bathed in a tub full of existential dread.  As we watch, we find ourselves wondering if the neighborhood is really as creepy as it looks or if maybe Chloe’s paranoia is rubbing off on us.

Chloe is played by Ashley Bell, who some will recognize as being the “possessed” girl in The Last Exorcism.  Bell gives an excellent performance in this film.  She’s immediately sympathetic but, at the same time, she plays the role with just enough a nervous edge that you’re always aware that she could be imagining things.  (Bell is often framed in the scene so that she’s seen alone, reinforcing the feeling that Chloe is not quite living in the real world.)  Also deserving of credit is Tom Amandes, who is all dapper menace as Gerald.

A Neighbor’s Deception ends with a twist that won’t necessarily take you by surprise but no matter.  The journey makes it all worh it.