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The Secret of My Success
1987 - PG-13 - 110 Mins.
Director: Herbert Ross
Written By: Jim Cash nd Jack Epps Jr.
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Helen Slater, Richard Jordan, Margaret Whitton, John Pankow
Review by: John Ulmer
"The Secret of My Success" owes all its minimal success to the casting of Michael J. Fox, one of the most likable screen presences in all of film history. In "Back to the Future," he was the overwhelmed high schooler who accidentally traveled back in time to 1955 and had to find a way back. In "Teen Wolf," he was the highschooler turned into a werewolf. In "The Hard Way," one of the best cop-buddy films of all time, he was the eager-to-please Hollywood actor trying to do some good-natured research.

All his roles fall back on the Sweet Guy persona. In "The Secret of My Success," he plays Brantley, a Kansas boy who makes the big move to the Big Apple, where he lands a job at his uncle Howard's (Richard Jordan) firm. He gradually makes his way up the ladder as a mail boy, but his real break comes when he is mistaken for a higher-up and tries to woo hard-to-get girl Christy (Helen Slater), a beautiful co-worker of the company who buys Brantley's job position.

Simple premise, but it becomes all the more entangled when Brantley has to run back and forth between different job positions, changing clothes in the elevator and getting in a heated affair with his uncle's wife (played by Margaret Whitton), the kind of lady who doesn't take no for an answer.

The film's amorality is what struck me on multiple viewings. It sort of seems dirty and unclean -- Brantley's a farm boy but he's eager to get in a romance with his aunt. The casual sexuality of the film is what, ultimately, makes it sort of disturbing, and also sort of memorable, as odd as that may sound.

Fox shines in the lead role, and with any other actor the film would simply fall flat on its face. And, to be honest, a film like this could never be made nowadays -- I can imagine Jim Carrey in such a role, but the outcome would be wholly different. The eighties were an entire generation of comedy unto themselves. A lot of people love the comedies from the eighties because so many were made with so little thought and yet a lot of heart, kind of like "The Secret of My Success." Its mediocrity is what drives it, amazingly, but also its heart, and so many comedies nowadays lack the heart of the comedies from the eighties.

I come back to "The Secret of My Success" a lot, probably because I saw it on TV when I was younger and it's been in my head ever since. It's a routine film that's hardly recommendable, but I actually enjoy it a lot the more I watch it, and it has a kind of frenetic comedic energy that most of the films of the genre are lacking nowadays.

The script, by Jim Cash nd Jack Epps Jr., seems as though it were one from an earlier decade. It has a delightful sweetness to it that's simply not unnoticeable.

I understand how many would dislike this film. The critic Roger Ebert gave "The Secret of My Success" 1.5/4 stars upon its inital release in 1987. I can't say I wouldn't have, either, if I were in his shoes. But comedies, over time, sort of grow on you, and this is one of those cases.

It's not as good as "Back to the Future," or "The Hard Way," but it's a lot like Fox's "Teen Wolf" (1985): fast-paced, extremely routine, cliched, flawed, and lots of fun. Don't miss this one, even if it isn't exactly the pinnacle of comedy.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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