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'Maid to Order' (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 21, 1987

Ally Sheedy plays a fairy-tale princess who loses her money, her MasterCard and her satin slippers in "Maid to Order," an incompetently acted and directed comic variation on the Cinderella story with touches of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills." It's a garish-looking fable set to a plinky score that might have been written by pixies inspired by Barry Manilow.

As the tacky credits fade, we meet our heroine Jessica Montgomery, the bored and bratty daughter of a California philanthropist. She borrows money from the butler, refuses to hang up her clothes and breaks bottles of Beaujolais nouveau. If you are the wine cooler type, the significance of this last atrocity may be elusive, but little else will test your savvy, for the story is simplistic enough for the Care Bear set.

Sheedy, who starred in "The Breakfast Club" and "St. Elmo's Fire," was last seen opposite a lovable robot in "Short Circuit," and it's as if some of her costar's style rubbed off. She's positively mechanical, so close-lipped you'd think she had lockjaw. Her performance is as empty as the life of the spoiled heiress Jessica, a characterless coke-sniffer who is magically mutated into a penniless bum by her fairy godmother.

Beverly D'Angelo plays that magic-maker, but even this versatile character actress hasn't got her customary spunk. She's virtually a shlump as Stella, a nicotine-sucking, character-building fairy who intervenes when Dad (Tom Skerritt) wishes on her star. Jessica has been busted for drugs, and Montgomery wishes his daughter had never been born. And ta-da, Stella zaps her. Jessica is still alive, but she's a nobody from nowhere in a tattered evening gown.

Starving and wretched within minutes, she takes Stella's advice and gets a job as a maid in the gaudy Malibu mansion of an outlandish Hollywood agent, Stan (the late Dick Shawn), and his daffy wife Georgette (Valerie Perrine). It's not a great role to go out on, but the few laughs this movie garners come from Shawn and, less often, Perrine.

Jessica puts Tide in the dishwasher and tries to shake bubble gum out of an ashtray. All this hilarity turns the thoughtless wretch into a swell human being. Now she has dinner at the black cook's house, is kind to the Hispanic maid and starts dating the white chauffeur.

The only sympathetic performances come from Merry Clayton, a Grammy Award-winner who plays the cook, and Michael Ontkean, a little-known hunk who plays the love interest. The cook needs money for her daughter's college tuition and the chauffeur, really a composer, wants the world to hear his songs. When their dreams become more important to her than her own, the selfless Jessica gets to be rich again.

Everybody comes into money. Now that's a real Me Decade moral, another noxious lesson from the late '80s. This one is directed by Amy Jones, whose only other movie was a Roger Corman B thriller called "Slumber Party Massacre." She sure knows her way around a massacre.

"Maid to Order" is inoffensive.

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