The Secret of My Success (1987) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and language
Running Time: 111 min.
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Helen Slater, Richard Jordan, Margaret Whitton, John Pankow, Christopher Murney, Gary Bamman, Fred Gwynne
Small role: Mercedes Ruehle, Cindy Crawford, Bruce McGill
Director: Herbert Ross
Screenplay: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr., AJ Carothers
Review published December 30, 2013
Michael J. Fox (Teen Wolf, Bright Lights Big City) plays a Kansas farm boy named Brantley Foster, whose dream of making it big gets a little closer when he takes a job working in the mail room at his distant uncle Howard Prescott's (Jordan, The Hunt for Red October) corporation. Brantley is convinced he has what it takes to make it to the top of the business world, and he uses his position to keep track of the missives around the company, gleaning lots of important information on how the business is run, as well as exposing many of the inefficiencies.
In order to get closer to Christy Wills (Slater, Supergirl), the financial whiz in the company who would never give a lowly mail room type the time of day, Brantley creates a new persona as Carlton Whitfield, a top exec in the company. However, this causes massive waves for his uncle, who is not only sleeping with Ms. Wills, but he is being undermined by decisions that the unknown Whitfield seems to be making for the company from right under his very nose. And keeping the two personas under wraps gets more complicated when Prescott's wife Vera (Whitton, Nine 1/2 Weeks) also takes a fancy to young Brantley, and won't take no for an answer.
The Secret of My Success is a starring vehicle for the then red-hot Michael J. Fox, who had been dominating both TV (with "Family Ties") and movie theaters (with Back to the Future) not long before its release in 1987. Fox delivers a great deal of energy playing what would be yet another yuppie role among many, though this time the hook is that he is a Midwest values kind of guy who is only pretending to be the young upwardly mobile professional. If you can't get enough of Fox running from room to room in madcap fashion, changing clothes and running his fingers coyly through his hair, this film will offer you plenty to admire in that department.
Though the plot is centered around the world of big business, The Secret of My Success is more concerned with delivering laughs, via a lively love-quadrangle element in which each main character has two lovers they are trying to keep from one another, hopping from bed to bed with ulterior motives. Along these lines, the ultimate success for Brantley isn't motivated by greed or power so much as trying to impress the steely female exec in the company, who is written to be shallow, but as played by Helen Slater, is good-looking enough to cover over the fact that she's fickle and self-serving, positioning her as the main prize in the contest of Wills (pun intended) between the sneaky Brantley and wily Howard Prescott. And boy, who wouldn't want to fight over a woman who looks so seductive slurping water out of a water fountain?
With the exception of Michael J. Fox's charisma, there's very little to recommend within The Secret of My Success. It is quite a generic 1980s comedy about small-time people making it in big business by undermining the greedy players at the top, which was a main theme of the yuppie Reagan-era entertainment. Whereas the conflicts in the past had always been the protagonist choosing between love and money, films like Secret posit that one can have both with a little ingenuity. In addition to Fox's presence, the film's only other memorable element is its use of the pop hit, "Oh Yeah" by Yello, which is featured in two key scenes of the movie -- never mind that Ferris Bueller's Day Off had beaten it to the punch two years before.
Sitcom gags and slapstick premises are all that you'll be offered for the rather lengthy 111-minute duration. Unless you're just looking to see the appeal of Michael J. Fox in his prime, or just love anything 80s no matter how cheesy or contrived, this is one Secret you won't want to share.
©2013 Vince Leo