The Business of Strangers

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First-time director/screenwriter Patrick Stettner must have been absolutely thrilled to get Julia Stiles and Stockard Channing to star in his movie, the very theatrical and dialoguish “Business of Strangers.” Stiles and Channing must have likewise been eager to sink their chops into characters with some depth, and to do some real SCENES, instead of all that cut-and-paste, start-and-stop stuff that usually goes into movie-making.

They all probably wish “The Business of Strangers” didn’t have the most predictable ending since “Titanic.”

Aside from that, it’s not a bad film. It’s a character study, mostly, about high-powered business executive Julie (Channing). While hopping from city to city, giving software presentations to big corporations, she gets the word the CEO is flying out to meet with her. She believes she is to be fired and calls corporate headhunter Nick (Frederick Weller) to get there first and help her find a new job.

Turns out she’s actually being promoted to CEO, as the current bigwig is stepping down. She feels bad now about firing the young peon Paula (Stiles) who showed up late with her audio-visual aids at the last presentation. She happens to run into the dour young lady at a hotel bar, they make amends, and a strange friendship starts to brew.

To anyone with two eyes, Paula is clearly not even close to what she claims to be. Her behavior toward nearly everyone is combative, and her romantic overtones toward Julie are downright creepy, in a “Single White Female” kind of way. She tells Julie of a dreadful act perpetrated by none other than Nick the headhunter years ago, and the two plot revenge against him. Again, if you don’t know what’s really going on here, you’ve never seen a motion picture before.

Channing and Stiles are solid in their roles; Stiles, who is always so aloof anyway, is well-cast as the enigmatic (read: lying) Paula. (I’d like to see Paula hook up with the Talented Mr. Ripley, by the way.) Julie begins to doubt her happiness as a power-hungry corporate gal, thanks to Paula’s expertly placed seeds of despair.

Stettner no doubt wanted to recall “In the Company of Men,” in that both films deal with the battle of the sexes as fought evilly and maliciously. “The Business of Strangers” comes nowhere near the power of the other film, but as a first-time effort, it’s not altogether bad.

B- (; R, abundant harsh profanity, brief nudity and explicit sexual content.)

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