The Associate (1996)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Trading Places

The Temp

The Frighteners

The Associate

Lava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

Goldberg and Wiest make it
on a man's Wall Street.
One of Hollywood's favorite tricks over the last decade has been to take perfectly good foreign films and remake them in safe, pasteurized, good-old American movie-style. These films include The Birdcage (La Cage aux Folles), Three Men & A Baby (Trois Hommes et un Couffin), and Point of No Return (La Femme Nikita). Unfortunately, none of the remakes come out anywhere near as good as the originals, and they usually just make us wish that the Hollywood bigwigs had left the darn films alone.

Although we haven't seen L'Associe, the French film upon which The Associate is based, we have reason to suspect that once again, the original film is better and funnier. It certainly couldn't wallow in mediocrity any more than the American version does. From the plot synopsis, we can tell that L'Associe is probably going for the straight comedy rather than for the end-of-story moral, and the simpler a film's goals are, the more likely it is to achieve them. Unfortunately, The Associate's goal is to take a story about a man who invents a business partner and turn it into a story about a black woman struggling for equality on Wall Street who invents a white male business partner and then impersonates him. We encourage you to draw your own conclusions.

The woman in question is Laurel Ayres, played by Whoopi Goldberg. Ayres is a medium-level investment counselor for big-name investors. Although she's financially brilliant, she has hit the glass ceiling and is passed up for a promotion. When the promotion goes to her "good ol boy" partner who knows how to schmooze, Ayres quits and starts her own firm. Predictably, no one wants to take investment advice from this lone black woman, so she invents the aformentioned fictional business partner: Robert S. Cutty.

Because Cutty is always off on some trip or other, he never attends meetings, but people invest with him anyway on the strength of his manly office. (Huh?) Well, okay, the investment advice is good too, but it's really the fact that Cutty is a white male that convinces the Wall Street types to buy in. Soon Ayres and her staunch secretary Sally Doogan (Dianne Wiest), are high rollers, making deals with the "big boys," so long as the illusion holds up.

Of course, it can't. Although she manages to keep people outside the firm convinced that Cutty exists, even going so far as to pass herself off as Cutty himself (a supposedly astonishing makeup job that failed to impress us), she finds that she doesn't like Cutty very much. Soon Ayres becomes so tired of her "partner" stealing her thunder that she "kills" him in a staged car crash, only to be arrested for his murder.

Of course there are more plot developments and the like going on in The Associate, but who really cares? In the end, Ayres is forced to resurrect Cutty for one last performance at which she unveils herself, and all is right in the end, because now she's shown that a black woman can do everything a white man can do. Ho-hum. Good message, bad presentation, and the whole thing takes too long.

Not all is wrong with The Associate. Some of the jokes are worth a few laughs, and Dianne Wiest is almost always a pleasure to watch, although we've definitely seen better from her. If either of these two usually talented actresses are faves, you might want to watch this bit of fluff for the sake of completeness. Otherwise, give it a pass and rent something else from the video shelf.

Review date: 10/17/1997

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