Picks and Pans Review: A the Secret of My Success

updated 04/27/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/27/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Although he's the new boy in town, he looks very familiar. Just arrived in the big city, he immediately witnesses a robbery, eyes the girls in their summer dresses and uses terrorist tactics on the roaches in his apartment. He may have arrived from Kansas, but he comes across more like a refugee from American movies circa 1963. The Secret of My Success is a retro comedy given a yuppie make-over to differentiate it from its obvious forefathers, which range from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying to The Apartment. The result, half boardroom farce and half romantic fairy tale, would be dreary were it not for its star, Michael J. Fox. He plays the go-getter who insinuates himself into a Manhattan corporation run by a distant and distasteful uncle, Richard Jordan. Unc is having an extramarital affair with the woman of his nephew's daydreams. In an earlier era, she would probably have been a secretary. In this version she's a Harvard MBA, in the person of Helen Slater. The serviceable script by Top Gun perpetrators Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr., written with A J Carothers, doesn't capitalize on the comedy targets that inhabit the corporate culture. But ironically, if this movie weren't such a slapdash, ramshackle comedy, it probably wouldn't showcase Fox as well as it does. In a streamlined machine like Back to the Future, Fox had no room to perform; he was more a cog than a performer. Here, he's the center of attention, right down to his skill at the lost art of the double take. Like Jack Lemmon or Robert Morse in those '60s comedies, Fox is an island of innocence even when he's playing office politics. That's just as well, since in true yupscale tradition, the hero is more defined by his hedonism than his heroism. A midtown Manhattan setting invigorates director Herbert Ross, who finds a kind of romance in the cacophony of the city, particularly as it is shot by cinematographer Carlo (Hannah and Her Sisters) Di Palma. Ross also populated the movie with a number of curious background characters, including Margaret Whitton as Jordan's horny wife, Carol-Ann Susi as Fox's bumbling secretary and playwright Chris Durang as a corporate bozo. Without Fox, though, this comedy could be mostly an eminently disagreeable apologia for greed and ambition. What preserves the charm is that Fox, unlike most leading men these days, doesn't seem afraid to be affable. (PG-13)

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