Strictly BusinessThere are some things that are just so distinctly early 90’s that they’re almost too embarassing to bring up in 2007. Power Rangers, MC Hammer, and anything remotely having to do with fashion easily fall under that heading. To current stars Halle Berry, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sam Rockwell, some might say that Strictly Business falls firmly into that category.

The film follows the story of Waymon Tinsdale III, Joseph C. Phillips as a hard working businessman (imagine a superiorly played precursor to Chris Rock in I Think I Love My Wife). Steadily climbing the corporate ladder at a major real estate development firm, Waymon seems destined for the top. Meanwhile, his friend Bobby, Tommy Davidson of “In Living Color” fame, works in the mailroom and is threatened with being fired nearly every day by his boss, a comically grouchy Samuel L. Jackson (billed as “Sam Jackson” here in his pre-Snakes on a Plane days). All Bobby wants is for Waymon to get him into the company’s broker training program. And when Waymon falls for Bobby’s friend, the beautiful Natalie (Halle Berry in an early role), Bobby sees his chance to leverage a favor. In exchange for Waymon’s help in getting him into the training program, Bobby will teach Waymon how to “be black” in order to relate to Natalie.

What isn’t explained is why Waymon is so drawn to Natalie, aside from the obvious surface beauty of Halle Berry. When he sees her at a club spiritedly freaking two guys on the dance floor, audience members have to wonder what Waymon feels sets her apart from other women, and why he would suddenly feel the urge to act on such a desirous impulse, especially since his current girlfriend (played tight-lippedly by Anne-Marie Johnson) is the exact opposite and he’s apparently never stood up to her in his life.

The early 90’s styles are laughable eye candy, and Halle Berry has clearly had some intense acting classes since the making of this film. Sam Rockwell shows up for a few effective scenes as a young trainee and friend of Bobby. Denis Leary makes a quick cameo as a club manager and James McDaniel makes a solid brief appearance as well. The most notable brief appearance of all, though, is Isaiah Washington (of “Grey’s Anatomy” fame) as a character simply titled “hustler”. Blink and you’ll miss him.

There are a few laughs along the way, but Strictly Business doesn’t quite make out as well as it could have. For one, it sets out to examine the very complicated subject of race and identity in a humorous and enlightening way, and ends up making a few slightly less-than-deep revelations. An interesting work/life dichotomy does begin to appear midway through the film, though. At work, Waymon teaches Bobby how to dress professionaly and get to work on time if he wants to be considered for promotion, while after work Bobby teaches Waymon how to buy trendy clothes and speak slang. It’s all very inauthentic, though. By the predictably happy ending, both men seem to have come to a greater understanding of themselves and their personalities, but the audience feels slightly left out of the revelation as nothing much seems to have changed aside from Waymon getting the girl and Bobby getting the job. Some things grow sweeter with time… and some just grow older. Perhaps Strictly Business worked in 1991, but in 2007 it’s older than parachute pants.

Zach’s Rating: C
Zach’s rating in 1991: B
Zach’s rating in 2021: D

To purchase Strictly Business (out 9/18), vist Amazon

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