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For just over a decade, John Hughes was one of the hippest, hottest names in Hollywood. Starting with The Breakfast Club in 1980, his work came to define a generation and launched the careers of several teen stars. That said, not everything he touched turned to gold: Career Opportunities was shot in 1989 and didn't manage to make it to theaters until 1991, following a tumultuous post-production process (and the breakout, career-defining box office success of Home Alone). Although the film eventually garnered a small cult following, it doesn't carry the same kind of respect that even Hughes' less-celebrated work like She's Having a Baby and Some Kind of Wonderful have. Watching it now, it's easy to see why...and why Hughes himself tried to take his name off of it before it was released.
Frank Whaley plays Jim Dodge, a young man out of high school still living with his parents. Jim's a big dreamer, constantly charming pre-pubescent audiences with his completely fictional stories of wheeling and dealing. Unfortunately, the town's employers are less impressed -- Jim's actual reputation might as well be a big "Do Not Hire" sign hung on his back. His father (John M. Jackson) makes him an ultimatum: get a job and keep it, or get on the next bus out of town. Jim's last chance is at the new Target department store, where he gets a job as the overnight janitor. On his first night, his crazy new boss (William Forsythe) locks him inside the store to fend for himself, which is Jim's idea of Hell...until he discovers he's not only not alone, but his company is none other than his dream girl, Josie McClellan (Jennifer Connelly), who's hiding out from her controlling father (Noble Willingham).
If someone suggested that Career Opportunities was the result of a bet or an experiment to see how many story elements could be placed into a film without anything to cohere it all into a single story, it'd seem reasonably plausible. The film introduces and juggles Jim's delusions of grandeur, Josie's desire to leave, Jim's new gig and his parents' expectations, Josie's dad looking for her, the potential of a relationship between Jim and Josie and the possibility of a new life with $52,000 she's stolen, and an entirely extraneous subplot involving two violent burglars (Dermot Mulroney and his real-life brother Kieran), and still manages to feel as if it has no story. The movie runs a scant 83 minutes, and still finds itself padding out the running time with multiple montages of characters doing things inside the Target, including at least two, perhaps even three sequences of goofing off. The film also endeavors to milk laughs out of characters falling into elaborate displays and making a mess at least three times -- a gag that seems unlikely to get a sincere laugh even once.
Without a clear trajectory of story beats, character suffers as well. Jim is a dreamer, and his dreams seem like distractions, but Hughes' script doesn't seem to want to do much about it. He and Josie discuss their images of one another and there is a little bit of material that suggests they're learning to look past it, but the thread simply doesn't get enough attention for it to develop into anything (in one sequence, where Jim's lies almost save the day, the film almost seems to actively abandon the possibility of a character arc in favor of an awkward, unfunny punchline). Josie's backstory is even spottier: she occasionally mentions that her father is abusive, but Hughes and Gordon never touch on the subject with enough gravity for it to be meaningful. It's hard to tell what tone they were going for with the thread, and the finished film (which underwent some reshoots in an extended post-production period) feels like chunks of her story ended up on the cutting room floor. Beyond this, a B-thread with Jim's father also ends with an ellipsis, it seems odd that Forsythe's character shows up for only one scene, and the appearance of the burglars feels like an afterthought after they've been built up the entire movie.
Whaley, a well-known character actor, is a mixed bag in his role, although much of that is the character rather than his performance. Jim's persona is kind of annoying rather than charming -- those who dislike Ferris Bueller or who would turn on him if his personality were a few degrees different will probably get that vibe from Jim. Whaley is most charismatic when Jim lets his guard down and speaks to Josie like a normal person. Something similar could be said of Gordon's direction. Certain sequences with a clear purpose have a nice charm to them (such as Jim and Josie making up for a missed dance), and while there are too many montages, the idea has spirit. Still, the aimless script prevents him from having much of a vision for the picture, and the movie's tone is all over the map. The film's ending feels like a fitting capper on the whole experience, with the action suddenly rushing toward the finish line, sprinting wildly through beats that ought to be more momentous and dramatic given how important they are. The one hallmark of Hughes' work that holds up here is the film's soundtrack, which ends up feeling like a patch on an otherwise troubled production.
Career Opportunities makes its Blu-ray debut with its simple poster art intact: a photo of Whaley and Connelly together. Text from the poster has been reformatted to fit next to the image on the smaller dimensions of the Blu-ray cover (with the top-billed cast members added at the bottom). I also have to say, the inclusion of the full image on the front cover almost makes it seem like a joke when the menu loads up and Whaley has been cropped right out. The one-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Universal is a studio with a checkered history when it comes to HD masters, and this is Career Opportunities' first time graduating from DVD, so I was a little worried about what Kino Lorber Studio Classics would have to work with here. While I can't speak to the provenance of this particular 2.35:1 1080p AVC HD presentation of Career Opportunities is, it looks pretty good for something not advertised as being a new master...for the most part. Colors are impressive, popping off the screen with a pleasing vibrance (so much so that Whaley occasionally looks a touch suntanned), and fine detail is very strong. No signs of Universal's dreaded sharpening plague the image either...but, if there's one thing holding the transfer back, it's the treatment of the grain. This isn't a DNR-type disaster, but there's a definite sense that this somewhat older master has been managed and massaged somewhat -- in motion, grain is hardly visible inside the brightly-lit Target, to the point where skin can look a bit smoothed in wide and medium shots even though the texture clearly remains in the image. Whatever's been done creates a very mild blurriness to the motion when examined closely, although one has to be looking for it. Mild print damage is also noticeable in the form of occasional flecks of dirt. Sound is a relatively no-frills DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo track that mostly comes alive when the film's pop music soundtrack does, and during some of the more chaotic antics. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
One supplement has been added for this Blu-ray: an audio commentary by efilmcritic's Erik Childress, who is a native of Hughes' beloved Chicago. As one might guess, a history of Hughes, how the film fits into Hughes' career and dovetails with his thematic interests, and some general information about Chicago serve as the backbone of the track. Childress also peppers in a good deal of behind-the-scenes information about the production gleaned from cast and crew interviews, as well as his own thoughts on where the film succeeds and fails (including a theory about Connelly's character, which, while very dark, would help to make sense of her nearly non-existent arc). Fans of the film may have liked to see an interview with Whaley and/or Forbes (I imagine Connelly is out of reach), but Childress is well-read and paces himself nicely.
Under the special features menu, there are some bonus trailers for Kino releases, including The Hot Spot, Bright Angel, Retroactive, and Just Visiting. An original theatrical trailer for Career Opportunities has also been included (which is maybe more of an extra than it would normally be, given how many deleted scenes it showcases).
Career Opportunities ends up feeling like it has a fitting title, and not in the best way -- it was a gig for everyone involved, and the results are more indicative of commerce than inspired artistry. Still, fans of the film will probably appreciate KLSC's Blu-ray, which has a better-than-expected transfer and a decent audio commentary. Rent it.
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