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'The Secret of My Success' (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 10, 1987

You may think it's just another harmless dumb movie, but "The Secret of My Success" actually spells the end of civilization as we know it -- the collapse of cinema and the rise of Big Business video, corporate rock 'n' roll and the new Icahnography of Film.

Like "Mannequin" and "From the Hip," this latest caper is set to double-digit Dolby. But the deafening soundtrack doesn't disguise the lack of story as much as it underscores the fact that nothing much is happening. Actually, nothing much does happen in offices. People sit at desks. Some of them plot quietly.

But now the robber barons, the swashbuckling Wall Street rockers, are the new American heroes. Takeovers must be made to look thrilling. But let's face it, chase scenes are a problem. "Secret of My Success" tries to compensate with plenty of love on the job, as consenting workaholics meet over the coffee pot and then their fantasies come true in the romantic video montage that follows.

Michael J. Fox, that Mickey Rooney of the '80s, shows us what boys next door are up to these days: ditching their scruples to get to the top of the corporate ladder. Like the duplicitous lawyer in "From the Hip," Fox is just another material guy.

As a 24-year-old MBA from Kansas who could only get a job in the mailroom because he was "not a female minority," Fox saves a multinational conglomerate from a hostile takeover anyway. He accomplishes this by commandeering an empty office and issuing bogus memos. Through allegedly comical means (he changes clothes a lot), he fights off the corporate raider and wins a key to the executive washroom.

This belabored charade of mistaken identities is guided by Herbert Ross, who has directed everything from "The Sunshine Boys" to "Footloose." Apparently, he's decided to cater to younger moviegoers with this discordant mix of MTV imagery and classic farce. The inevitable bedroom-romp scenes are a long time coming.

Among the rompers are Helen ("Supergirl") Slater, elegant as a big-blue-eyed junior executive who is sleeping with the CEO but falls in love with Fox over printouts and distribution charts. Fox meanwhile is seduced by Margaret Whitton as the neglected wife of Richard Jordan's debonair, delightfully oily CEO husband.

The screenplay, or what there is of it after all of the Madonnaesque musical interludes, is by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. ("Top Gun" and "Legal Eagles"). The moviemakers readily confess that the narrative is carried by the montage -- but in the final analysis, there's only so much a body can learn from high heels and broken glass and fog and water dripping and closeups of lips.

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