- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

"The Business of Strangers" is amateurish dirty business, a first feature that could justify its unsavory pretext only by turning into a hard-core porn caprice in celebration of blithely mercenary lesbians.
Lacking the courage of such tendencies, it remains a sad-sack tease that will be lucky to loiter around the stray art house.
Stockard Channing is cast as a businesswoman named Julie Styron who ends up stranded by bad weather at an airport hotel after a rotten day on the road. A sales pitch has been sabotaged by the late arrival of a young temp, Julia Stiles as Paula Murphy, entrusted with the audiovisual aids and cursed with a sinister streak.
Julie sacks Paula and retreats to the airport. She considers the day such a loss that she summons a corporate headhunter, Frederick Weller as Nick Harris, in hopes of starting a job search.
To her amazement (and ours), Julie discovers she's being kicked upstairs to CEO. A night of potential brooding turns celebratory. She hangs out a bit with Nick and strangers encountered in the hotel bar.
She tries to make amends to Paula, who also is stranded and conveniently hanging around. That's a big mistake because Paula takes this as a cue for blackmail, sexual and otherwise. She starts coming on to the older woman, not necessarily susceptible but suddenly complacent. It amuses her, for example, to play along with the younger woman's teases when they're being overheard by men in elevators.
The budding acquaintance turns terminally ugly as Julie gets sozzled and Paula masterminds the sapping of Nick, whom she claims to recognize as an unpunished date rapist from college days.
After sedating him, the women lug him to a floor sealed off for renovations. They scrawl obscene remarks on his slumbering torso and simulate some date-raping of their own with the unwitting victim.
Paula begins taking incriminating Polaroids. The $64 question: Will Julie's head clear in time to call her bluff and kick her out?
In fabricating this would-be lewd yet cringing polemic, writer-director Patrick Stettner seems to be aspiring to the status of a sex-starved poor man's Dr. Frankenstein. Instead of dealing in cadavers, he deals in the ghosts of mercifully forgotten feminist plays, dead and buried for the better part of the past 35 years.
The idea that some kind of pivotal power struggle is being enacted by the co-stars, representing the struggling free women of successive generations, seems insulting rather than thematically provocative.
Miss Channing and Miss Stiles can consider themselves fortunate if "Strangers" is the worst obscurity they ever let themselves fall for. Ironically, Mr. Stettner is their temp from hell. He lured them into a bum project, sure enough, but there's no reason anyone has to dwell on the humiliation of it all.

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