July 2, 1988
BIG BUSINESS (PG) The combination sounded irresistible. That great bawd Bette Midler and that great comic Lily Tomlin playing two roles apiece in a comedy about two sets of identical twins.
Through a hospital error, they are mixed up at birth and raised in separate locations as fraternal twins. Despite the promise, the finished movie plays like one joke told over and over.
The jest pivots on mistaken identity, on what happens when one set of twins raised in the country (one pair of Midler and Tomlin) come to New York to protest the actions of a giant corporation, only to find that a second set of twins (another pair of Midler and Tomlin) runs the venal company. Complicating matters are four suitors, who can’t tell the city Bette from the country Bette, the urban Lily from the rural Lily. And so on and so on.
The movie has some laughs, and will probably be a hit among summer viewers. But it turns out that the picture’s premise is both too complicated and too limited to sustain itself. How many times can we watch someone being mistaken for someone else and find it hilarious?
Directed by Jim Abrahams (“Airplane!“), this comedy has no momentum. And it helps if you don’t notice or care that one of the best bits – a comic mirror routine – is lifted directly from the Marx Brothers (where it was funnier).
Midler gives the picture what specialness it has, especially as the snippy, splashily dressed corporation head. But this is Bette’s fourth movie for Touchstone, and she’s letting Disney turn her into a caricature – a tottering, lip-puckering jiggle machine.