By the book and to expectations must have been the mission statement for Arthur Hiller's 1990 James Belushi and Charles Grodin romp Taking Care of Business from then first-time screenwriter Jeffrey (J.J.) Abrams and Jill Mazursky. While the film starts out well, its gags run on fumes as the premise stretches thin and loses necessary comedic timing in the closing stretch. There are some good laughs to be had but there could be more given the idea and cast. Kino Lorber Studio Classics delivers the film on Blu-ray with a serviceable A/V presentation and a solid commentary track to round out the bonus features. Not a great film, but it's entertaining and at the very least Worth A Look.
Belushi tests his new push for Leading Man status with the offbeat screwball comedy Taking Care of Business. Taking the fish out of water approach to both Belushi and his costar Charles Grodin, they're forced to play to various extremes in an attempt to mine comedic gold. They instead dig up some sterling silver. It's okay, but director Author Hiller and writers J.J. Abrams and Jill Mazursky make too much of an effort at keeping Belushi and Grodin apart for too long while stacking on a mountain of tired gags that feel like rejects from a Beverly Hills Cop sequel that was never made.
Belushi keeps to his likable everyman as the Cubs-obsessed convict Jimmy Dworski. In for stealing a number of cars, he's about due for release - just in time for the Cubs to go to the World Series against the Angels. After winning tickets on a radio show, the crooked warden (Hector Elizondo) refuses to let Dworski out a couple days early. So, to his scheming ways, Dworski and his inmate pals concoct a plot to sneak him out for the game and back before anyone notices. On the outside, the Type-A dedicated advertising executive Spencer (Charles Grodin) is flying into L.A. for an important meeting. When he loses his essential Filofax with all of his identification and credit cards, Jimmy Dworski finds the opportunity to live a bit of the good life on someone else's dime.
It had been a long time since I last saw Taking Care of Business. The last time I earnestly took the time to sit down and watch it was probably some 20 years ago when it was on a random movie channel. I had good memories of it with Belushi and Grodin getting some good laughs. But this far along I can see the movie's many faults. For starters, once Jimmy gets out of prison and takes over Spencer's life, the gags start to wear thin as implausibility starts to seep into the show. Any movie requires one to suspend disbelief but there are scenarios and gags that straight requires you to kill it altogether. That isn't to say there aren't any laughs, there are a few good ones, but so many bits just feel pedestrian and predictable.
It's like I said at the intro about how so much of the humor feels like it was pulled from a scrapped Beverly Hills Cop flick. What might have worked for Eddie Murphy in a two-minute bit doesn't exactly translate to a 108-minute movie, especially one with two comedic leads jockeying for screen time. When it's at its best, Taking Care of Business allows Belushi and Grodin to just be in a scene together and get out of the way. The two are natural comedians with perfect timing. When the script isn't telling them to go against their instincts, they're hilarious. What this film really needed to do was keep them together as long as possible. If they wanted to be a prison comedy, a road movie, or even a business farce - make them an Odd Couple pair who are forced to occupy an uncomfortable amount of time with each other.
Viewed as a whole, the film isn't "bad" but it isn't amazing either. Author Hiller and his writers feel like their story is just going through the motions taking on any oddball assortment of scenarios that worked in other better movies. It's got some great gags here and there, but Taking Care of Business would have gotten a greater return on investment if Belushi and Grodin had more time together with fewer random plot threads to grab onto. The longer they're apart, the more the film drags and the comedy starts to feel desperate.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Taking Care of Business arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
While being another Disney deep catalog title from Hollywood Studios, Taking Care of Business didn't enjoy the same level of TLC as Mr. Destiny. This is a passable transfer that shows an obvious uptick in quality to its DVD counterpart, but one can't help but feel a bit underwhelmed. Scenes that take place in open daylight fair the best. Scenes in the prison yard or L.A. streets offer up plenty of details, healthy colors, and decent black levels and image depth. Indoor studio sequences tend to only be appreciable in middle shots and close-ups. There is a haziness to the image much of the time that pulls back details and subdues color clarity and vibrancy. Some good primary saturation does creep through but it's not as lively as one would hope. Black levels fair about the same in that regard. Some scenes blacks look great, others they're a little hazier and flatter. The source is in good shape without any serious scratches or speckling. Overall this is an okay transfer, it gets the job done, but it really could have used a new scan.
Taking Care of Business slips by with a decent English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. It's an uncomplicated comedy that mostly works on dialogue exchanges so to that effect this mix works. Sound effects and scoring feel secondary so their prominence only becomes heightened when a key plot point kicks in - the prison riot that allows Jimmy to escape is a key example where the soundscape becomes a bit more active and layered. Atmosphere and other elements are given the basic pass to set a scene but that's about it. Aside from not being impressive, the mix is fine as it gets the job done and is in good shape. No age issues to report and levels are on point.
Like Mr. Destiny the bonus features package isn't very robust, but it's nice to get a good audio commentary track.
Audio Commentary featuring screenwriter Jill Mazursky and moderated by Douglas Hosdale. This is a pretty nice commentary track as Mazursky gets to discuss what worked & what didn't, and Hosdale does a fine job of keeping the commentary moving and engaging without too many lulls.
Theatrical Trailer (SD 2:02)
Mr. Destiny Trailer (SD 2:51)
The Couch Trip Trailer (SD 1:14)
Taking Care of Business wasn't as much fun for a nostalgic trip down movie memory lane as Mr. Destiny was. This time around I was much more aware of how uneven the gags were and how the film only really works when its two leads Belushi and Grodin are on screen together. Whenever they're set apart, the film gets to feeling a bit stale and tired. Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings the film to Blu-ray with a serviceable A/V presentation that would have benefitted greatly from a new scan. The audio commentary proves to be a good listen and helps round out the bonus features package. All in all, it's not a bad film, but my memories were quite a bit rosier. Taking Care of Business is at least Worth A Look.