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‘The Efficiency Expert’ (NR)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 06, 1992

An innocuous homage to old-fashioned corporate paternalism, "The Efficiency Expert" concerns the Capra-esque reclamation of Anthony Hopkins as a time-and-motion consultant with the soul of a stopwatch. This bland tale of corporate callousness might have benefited from the biting presence of a Hannibal Lecter. Instead, Hopkins's performance is as restrained as this slight Australian comedy about preserving Australian jobs in the face of technological advances and foreign competition.

The efficiency expert, Wallace, is in the midst of settling a crisis at an enormous corporation -- where his recommendations for job cutbacks have stirred union protests -- when he's assigned to modernize a quaint, family-run factory, Ball Moccasins. The company, headed by the endearingly dusty Mr. Ball (Alwyn Kurts), is failing, but the owner has kept the news from his employees, whom he pays by selling off adjacent pieces of property. They're an incredibly naive lot of eccentrics, cuddly geeks who welcome Wallace but not his attempts to increase their productivity.

On getting to know and like the shoemakers, the hero finds there's more to life than cost-effectiveness. He finds his soul, realizing that Mr. Ball was right when he said: "Work isn't just about money. It's about dignity. It's about treating people with respect." Inspired by the little people, Wallace develops a model for corporate change without eliminating jobs. In a parallel development, the foreman's teenage son (Ben Mendelsohn) recognizes that the boss's pretty daughter is a snob and that the girl next door, a tomboy, is the girl for him.

"The Efficiency Expert," directed by Australian Mark Joffe, is basically hokum, but without the heart it claims to cherish. When it comes to populist fables, you've got to be willing to ladle out the sentiment, then wallow in it.

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