Once again, the “From the Archive” feature brings you the wildly forgettable cinema of the early nineteen-nineties. Around the time Company Business was released, in 1991, Gene Hackman was openly speculating that retirement was imminent. This is the sort of movie his working actor, next-script-from-the-top-of-the-pile instincts landed him in around that time. While there was greatness ahead, both duly rewarded and under-celebrated, it was easy to sympathize with his desire for exit when watching him trudge through material like this.
In the genre of spy stories, a new wrinkle has been added. With the Soviet Union undergoing radical, history-making changes, and the United States calling for nuclear disarmament, the Cold War is continuing its hurried rush to a close. So in the new film COMPANY BUSINESS, much is made of the fact that, in the world of international espionage, times are changing. Considering the film has been sitting on the shelf for about a year, some of the comments are even pretty prophetic.
In the film, Gene Hackman stars as a former CIA agent who gets called back into duty for what seems like a routine transfer of captured spies. But when he takes Soviet agent Mikhail Baryshnikov to Berlin for the exchange, he notices that something just isn’t right. He stops the transfer and soon he and Baryshnikov are on the run from American and Soviet agents who want to cover up the the mistake with a pair of well-placed bullets. The film progresses with a storyline that manages to be both complex and predictable.
Both Hackman and Baryshnikov are compelling, powerful performers, and they are completely believable as spies past their prime. But they never give their characters the drive and spark they need to make this film truly work. In order to make the dry, dull parts watchable, we need to be absolutely fascinated by these characters. That never happens. And, to make matters worse, the ends so abruptly that it literally takes you by surprise. It’s as if the financially strapped MGM Studios couldn’t afford and more film and told director Nicholas Meyer that he had to wrap up the several complicated plot lines with a two-minute conversation.
COMPANY BUSINESS is a tepid, languid spy thriller that never gives its talented cast enough worthwhile material to work with, leaving them dangling helplessly, much like all of the plot threads that it refuses to tie up.
1 and 1/2 stars, out of 4.