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THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Between ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Back to the Future, Part II,’ Michael J. Fox was trying to carve out a movie career as an adult leading man, as opposed to the teenager of his biggest hit and the young Republican of ‘Family Ties,’ the TV sitcom in which he was still starring at this time. ‘The Secret of My Success’ didn’t do it for him, but he kept on pitching and an uneven but respectable movie/TV career followed. This one isn’t’ bad; it just isn’t that good, either. But it’s getting the inevitable Blu-ray treatment from Kino Lorber, and Fox’s fans will surely appreciate the upgrade. My review was published in the Deseret News on April 12, 1987.

 

“The Secret of My Success” is a real throwback to movies of the past, and that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise once it’s known that the screenwriters — Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr. — just last year gave us “Top Gun” and “Legal Eagles,” also movies that look a lot like other, older movies.

 

The most obvious sources are those Doris Day-Rock Hudson-Tony Randall frothy comedies of the 1960s, in particular “Lover Come Back.”

 

But a special debt is also owed the musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” — sans the songs, of course.

 

And like “Top Gun” and “Legal Eagles,” “The Secret of My Success” relies heavily on the charm of it stars to get by — and without Michael J. Fox this one might not get by at all.

 

        

 

Michael J. Fox, Helen Slater, 'The Secet of My Success' (1987

 

Fox stars as a kid from Kansas who, upon graduating from college, goes to New York City ready to conquer the world. But New York has other plans, and the only job he can get is in the mailroom of a distant uncle’s major corporation.

 

Such expected lines as “Well Toto, I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore” are delivered on cue, and before long Fox is rising to the top by sleeping with the boss’ wife (unaware that she is his distant aunt — by marriage only, of course), creating a second identity, and taking over an empty office with sheer chutzpah, eventually saving the corporation from a nasty takeover.

 

He also manages to fall in love with the corporation’s lone female executive (Helen Slater), who just happens to be having an affair with the boss, and there are all kinds of romantic mix-ups, culminating in some innocent bedroom farce that has the participants sneaking from room to room during a weekend in the boss’ mansion. (That’s the second time this month; there’s a similar moment in “Blind Date.”)

 

But the script has little to offer in the form of either creativity or originality, and it isn’t helped by Herbert Ross’ incessant rock-video direction. Despite some gorgeous cinematography from Carlo di Palma (“Hannah and Her Sisters”), there are several moments when the film virtually halts as the music and montage videos take over (in fact, one of the songs plays twice, the same song used to similar comic effect in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”).

 

        

 

But then there’s Fox, whose charm and comedic ability are no small saving grace to the movie as a whole, and fans of his probably won’t be terribly disappointed.

 

Though Helen Slater is able, she is used virtually as window-dressing here (she had a much better opportunity to display her comic talents in “Ruthless People” last year). Richard Jordan is appropriately slimy as the corrupt uncle and Margaret Whitton comes close to stealing the show several times as Jordan’s neglected wife.

 

As for Fox, well, with “Light of Day” and “The Secret of My Success” (we won’t discuss “Teen Wolf”) he is fast proving that he needs advice on picking scripts lest he further waste his considerable talent.

 

Here’s hoping he gets something worthy of following up his enormous success in “Back to the Future” … something besides “Back to the Future II.”

 

“The Secret of My Success” is rated PG-13 for profanity, vulgarity and sex.