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Mixed up at birth, two sets of twins finally meet their match.
Back in 1986, Jim Abrahams took a break from writing shows featuring exclamation points (Airplane!, Police Squad!) to direct superstar Bette Midler in Ruthless People. Its success led to another collaboration in Big Business, which re-launched actress Lily Tomlin's career.
Facts of the Case
Two sets of twins are born on the same day in the same podunk hospital. The lone nurse gets discombobulated and does a little newborn mix-and-matching. The end result is two identical sets of non-identical twins. One pair is whisked away to New York while the other pair stays behind to wrassle pigs in Jupiter Hollow, West Virginia, until plot contrivance…I mean, fate brings them back together.
Big Business works way better than it should. The premise goes from coincidence to ridiculous when the births happen at the same time, and then breaches absurd when both sets of twins are given the same names. While there is a storyline involving trying to save the tiny town of Jupiter Hollow from destruction, it only exists to give Midler and Tomlin a sandbox in which to play. Almost the entire movie is spent on the inevitable "just missed running into each other" and "people who know one set run into the other set and confusion ensues" gags. The climax of the film is when they all meet, not the forgone conclusion to the official storyline.
And yet, once it gets going, it's a pretty enjoyable film. Both Midler and Tomlin are clearly having a ball and every scene has an infectious energy. They are helped immensely by an engaged supporting cast; even though the characters are one-dimensional, everyone seems invested in making the film work. Edward Herrmann (The Lost Boys) and Daniel Gerroll (Drop Dead Fred) especially stand out as New York Sadie's assistants, and their shared reaction to country hick Roone (Fred Ward, Tremors) is priceless.
The New York Sadie (Midler is both Sadies, Tomlin is both Roses) is a cold-hearted bitch who loves power and money and doesn't let anyone get in her way. The New York Rose, on the other hand, loves dogs and is kind to everyone she meets and doesn't really understand, much less care much for the family business. The Jupiter Hollow pair are…well, not quite the opposite, but close. Rose is the one who takes charge of the campaign to stop the evil corporation, even if it means going to New York, and Sadie is just along because she wants to see the big city. So the film creates a dichotomy between the inherent personalities of the characters—both Sadies are meant to be in the city, both Roses are meant to be in the country. Of course, to imply that a movie like this is trying to make a social statement might be giving it too much credit.
New York Sadie is a bit of a one-note character, but Midler does her best to give a little more dimension than "evil conniving queen." She has more success with the Jupiter Hollow Sadie, who gets to go from unwilling farm girl to big city spender and thus has a reasonably large character arc. Other than a couple of painful yodeling sequences, her scenes are fun to watch; Midler succeeds at imbuing Jupiter Hollow Sadie with just the right balance of cluelessness and awe.
Tomlin's New York Rose has the juicier role as the uncertain sister who dislikes the cold-hearted business world and would rather be…well, somewhere. She doesn't know where that is until she meets Roone. The Jupiter Hollow Rose is driven by her mission, but instead of a killer instinct, she has a hyperactive internal warning system that tells her when something (read: everything) is a trap designed to keep her from her goal. Tomlin is a physical comedienne and she uses her gawky body to her advantage, moving gracelessly through each scene with a shambling, clumsy gait. Her hangdog features are perfect for both roles; she constantly looks worried, as both Roses often are. She goes a little overboard with her reactions when the twins finally meet, but for the most part Tomlin nails it.
The 1080p transfer is reasonably clean and crisp, although the colors could have used a bit more oomph. Blacks are more of a dark gray and the lack of a deep palette saps a bit of the potential energy from the film. The only sound option is a serviceable 2.0 DTS HD track, so your rear speakers will be bored throughout. Speech is clear and the soundtrack can be best described as unobtrusive. There are no extras. Not even trailers. If you already have the 480p DVD release, an upgrade likely isn't necessary.
Big Business is ridiculous, but everyone involved seems to be having a great time and their enjoyment is infectious. Not a bad way to spend a lazy afternoon.
Big Business plea bargains down to a lesser charge of silliness. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
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