The Secret of My Success (1987)

secret of my success

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has lofty ambitions.

Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox) has just graduated from high school and wants to take a stab at the big city. He has a nice job lined up, but when he gets there he finds that they’ve become victims of a hostile corporate takeover and his position is no longer available. His mother (Elizabeth Franz) tells him about his rich Uncle Howard Prescott (Richard Jordan) who is a CEO of a major firm. Brantley meets with him and manages to get a job in the mailroom, but then comes up with a scheme where he masquerades as a company executive while romancing an attractive boss (Helen Slater) and even his uncle’s wife (Margaret Whitton).

Fox is terrific in the lead and his engaging and likable presence makes up to some degree for the film’s other numerous shortcomings. There are a few funny scenes including the one where Brantley pretends to be an orchestra conductor by using the sound of a couple making love in the next apartment as his ‘music’. The bird’s eye shot of a group of executives jogging around a track that is situated on a roof of a Manhattan skyscraper is fantastic and my favorite moment of the whole film. Brantley’s scheme though is ridiculously over-the-top with no chance of ever successfully occurring in the real world, which makes the story less entertaining since the believability factor gets thrown out to the point that it becomes a completely inane farce by the end.

The humor is also too broad and would’ve worked better had it tried instead to be more subtle. A good example of this is where Brantley gives a limo ride to Howard’s wife Vera. Initially Vera is quite cold and bitchy towards him, but then he throws her a line of how he’d feel like ‘the luckiest man in the world if he awoke each morning with a beautiful woman like her lying next to him’, which is enough to ‘melt’ her cold exterior and have her invite him back to her place where she shamelessly comes onto him and even goes skinny dipping with him in her backyard pool. Yet I’d imagine an attractive, rich woman such as herself would get lines like that thrown at her all the time by other men and how would she know that Brantley, whom she had just met, wasn’t any different than the rest of them and simply looking for a way to get her between the sheets or at her money. There is no way a woman of that age and social pedigree would foolishly let down her guard that quickly and easily especially for a line that is rather unimaginative and corny.

I realize this is supposed to be a wish-fulfillment fantasy, but it goes overboard and too much of a good thing is never good. The so-called ‘American Dream’ is all about persevering and overcoming hardships and obstacles not like it is here where we have some wet-behind-the-ears kid who magically has all the answers while essentially cheating his way to the top in record time without even breaking a sweat and making everyone else who actually works for a living look like complete fools in the process.

A little grit and realism would’ve helped and at least given it some much needed balance, but instead it’s completely lacking, which ultimately makes it shallow, superficial and silly and not worth the time.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Instant Video

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