Picks and Pans Review: How to Get Ahead in Advertising

updated 06/26/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/26/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Richard E. Grant, Rachel Ward

If you can't find this movie anywhere nearby—and if it's playing any farther away than your garage, it's not worth the trip—here is how you can get a good idea of what it's about: First rent Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, the 1957 advertising-business spoof with Tony Randall as an account executive trying to figure out how to sell Stay-Put lipstick, with Jayne Mansfield's help. Then try to find a copy of The Thing with Two Heads, in which mad scientist Ray Milland grafts Rosey Grier's noggin onto his own body. Mix up the crucial scenes from both movies, and there you have it.

What would come out of such a mixture would probably be more entertaining than this cinematic equivalent of a hair shirt. Its target—deception and hypocrisy in the advertising industry-would seem almost impossible to miss. Yet this film ends up tedious and lame.

Grant (Withnail & I), who's onscreen for most of the film's 95 minutes, is a superstar English adman who boasts, "Whatever it is, you can sell it." He is also on the verge of a breakdown. Then a new account—for an antipimple medicine—pushes him over the edge, and he mutters, "I've been living a nightmare—obsessed with other people's acne." So far, so funny, But soon Grant gets a boil on his neck that grows to golf-ball size. Then it develops a face and starts talking to him.

Writer-director Bruce Robinson (he wrote The Killing Fields, directed Withnail & I) took the easy way out and made the talking boil visible to the audience. For one thing, this gimmick attracts too much attention to itself and away from the rapidly receding satirical point of the movie. For another, its talk is neither funny nor relevant, just nasty. Meanwhile, Ward, as Grant's wife, spends most of the movie looking stricken, a not-unreasonable reaction under the circumstances.

Eventually, Grant's more or less normal brain trades places with the boil's and Ward leaves him (it?) to rant on in tiresome fashion.

Robinson may have hoped for an anti-advertising diatribe similar to the Paddy Chayefsky-Sidney Lumet anti-TV treatise, Network. In this case, though, what you'll be mad as hell about and not want to take any more of is not ads and commercials, but the film itself. (R)

From Our Partners