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Festivale Autumn 1997
The Associate film review

The Associate

Remington Steele meets Mrs Doubtfire

Whoopi Goldberg in The Associate

Over the last fifteen years or so, Hollywood has developed a disgusting habit to add to all the other disgusting habits picked up over the years by that hyper-hyped factory town. The habit has created a number of movies. Three Men and a Baby, Intersection, Somersby, The Assassin, True Lies and The Advocate.

The habit is this: find an original French film which has imagination, depth, humour or bankability and clone it. But the Associate has a spin on its cloning. It was based upon a movie called L'Associe which itself was adapted from a novel El Socio by Jenaro Prieto. Twice removed, The Associate is rather formulaic comedy which presses some feminist buttons, offers the usual pat, happy ending and has a tendency to slide off the mind once the lights come up.

Whoopi Goldberg in The Associate (c) PolyGram
Whoopi Goldberg in The Associate
Laurel Ayres (Whoopi Goldberg) is a killer bee financial analyst. Basically she helps rich people get richer. After being shafted for a promotion by Frank (Tim Daly), a stereotypical corporate sleaze-ball she quits, founds her own company to enrich the rich and finds that nobody wants to permit a woman to handle their megabucks even if she is a genius at doing so.

After getting a meeting with Donald Fallon (Eli Wallach who was better playing a Mexican bandit in 'The Magnificent Seven') due to the secretarial behind-the-scenes work of Sally Dugan (Dianne Wiest) Laurel finds that she has to create a male partner, Robert S. Cutty, to be taken seriously by Wall Street.

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Various set comedy pieces ensue as Laurel's alter ego becomes an unseen Howard Hughes figure in the financial world. When Cutty absolutely has to be present, she enlists the aid of a drag queen friend to turn her into Cutty.

Here's where it comes apart. Seen statically, Greg Cannom's makeup looks good but on a human face, it looks like makeup. Whoopi Goldberg's uniquely beautiful face is the problem here. The asian eyes, high cheekbones and proudly African features have to be totally disguised and the only possible way, without resorting to Mission Impossible style digital morphing is to have a mask-like effect.

The acting is uniformly good. Bebe Neuwirth looks and acts hot as Camille, the stockbroker cum vamp but the schtick they give her is cliched and not all that funny. Seeing actors like Austin Pendleton and Lainie Kazan again is a kick. Daly is suitably slimy as he mouths the most obvious and over-the-top sexist dialogue seen in ages. Dianne Wiest works hard with the role of Sally, making her diffident and tough, intelligent and perceptive, but also repressed by the systems she works in. Whoopi is, as always, extremely watchable.

But there's an essential heart missing from this movie. Pendleton's role is obviously intended to give it that heart but when Laurel saves his company and hundreds of jobs, all she cares about is that Cutty got the credit for her work.

In cloning there's a phenomenon called the Hayflick Limit. It's the limit of the number of times you can clone a clone from a clone before errors totally ruin it. The Hayflick Limit on movies seems to be one. Clone someone else's film and the copy is a lesser beast. Not as sharp, not as vital, not as good.

Terry Frost

see also Ali Kayn's movie review for cast and crew credits.

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