The Associate review

Hollywood clearly doesn't know what to do with Whoopi Goldberg. And neither does she. Ms Goldberg can be a brilliant straight actress (see The Color Purple) and can carry a comedy when she really tries (we offer Sister Act, your honour), but recently she's landed herself with more dodgy vehicles than a Peckham car dealer. Now, cold on the heels of Eddie comes the equally hopeless The Associate - - a cross between Dustin Hoffman's Tootsie and Lenny Henry's True Identity. A remake of French film L'Associé (1982), The Associate gives us a fairly promising set-up - - sassy Whoopi as a white investment advisor giving Wall Street what for - - but fumbles the ball every chance it gets.

The film starts off as a lethargic commentary on office politics, but soon blossoms into a distaff Mrs Doubtfire, Whoopi's Laurel Ayres slapping on Robin Williams' cast-off prosthetics and morphing into the ponytailed, Brandoesque Mr Cutty. Lots of farcical quick-change capers ensue, and, sure enough, Goldberg is soon trundling out her usual blend of steel-coated wisecracks and soft-hearted goo. The problem is, there's very little charm to any of the proceedings: Dustin Hoffman made a truly watchable, fascinating personality out of Tootsie, but Cutty isn't interesting or likeable - or all that funny.

The supporting cast isn't bad, helping to lift proceedings somewhat. Okay, US sitcom star Tim Daly - - as Laurel's work rival Frank, who lands the job she should have had at the start of the film - - is pretty average (he was in the godawful Dr Jekyll And Ms Hyde, after all), but Dianne Wiest is her usual crinkly-eyed value-for-money self as Laurel's secretary, and it's good to see speccy '70s character actor Austin Pendleton again. You may remember him as Moodes in Catch-22, and here he recalls his jerky best as a failing businessman bailed out by Laurel and co.

For director Donald Petrie (who previously gave us the rough-edged energy of Mystic Pizza, and harnessed Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau to some effect in Grumpy Old Men), this is a career low. But it's Goldberg who should be the most worried - - she's obviously got talent, but her career's going nowhere fast. You only need take one look at her unpleasant and unconvincing make-up job to know that The Associate was a part to be avoided.

Whoopi Goldberg in yet another high-concept comedy - this time she dresses up as a white businessman. She's neither convincing nor charming, nor is the film.

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