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Movie Reviews : There’s Too Much Control in ‘She’s Out of Control’

The main trouble with “She’s Out of Control” (citywide) is that it’s never out of control. It’s a comedy about rampaging paranoia--about a widowed general manager at a failing rock radio station (Doug Simpson, played by “Taxi’s” stud, Tony Danza) who goes bonkers when his 15-year-old daughter starts dating. And the whole movie stays on greased, slick tracks right to the end. Instead of building toward a comic paroxysm, it turns into a polyethylene grenade, made to explode Barbie Dolls.

The movie, which has an ultra-professional technical sheen, comes on like a rock video version of every piece of TV-or-movie father-daughter-dating shtick since “Take Her, She’s Mine.” Bespectacled, awkward Katie (Ami Dolenz) takes off her glasses, gets a permanent, a facial and a new wardrobe, and-- voila! --idiotically grinning boys with glazed, lecherous eyes start tumbling across the Simpson porch like clowns out of a circus Volkswagen.

There’s the punk black-leather rebel (Dana Ashbrook), the rich voluptuary with a sneaky grin (Matthew L. Perry), the dumped, heart-stricken boy next door (Derek McGrath) and a half-dozen or so other cliches, loitering around, sweating and shuffling their heels. Inside, Katie’s little sister (Laura Mooney) makes dry wisecracks, and a frantic Simpson colleague shows up every 20 minutes to tell him his station’s ratings are falling.

The central joke of the movie is that though the daughter has gone overboard--her new-found popularity is driving her wild--her erstwhile ‘60s rebel father has gone crazier, egged on by his sadistic puppet master: gnomic psychiatrist and best-selling author Dr. Herman Fishbinder (Wally Shawn). Fishbinder is a piercing-eyed troll who seems to enjoy tormenting Doug and feeding his anxieties. He’s one of the film’s few contemporary notions, and Shawn, as always, does his nasal little bully routine and livens up his scenes. But this doctor-patient relationship is almost senseless. The demented father calls up night and day, and Fishbinder, yanked out of bed or a party, then impatiently reads him something out of the book. (Is this a commentary on radio executives? Does panic make Simpson illiterate?)

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The script is another one of those high-concept specials that sound like they were midwifed by an agent. It never swerves to the left or right; it never sneaks up on you. And even though you can always see the jokes coming--like the orgiastic prom or the crunched Jaguar--you can’t duck.

In the midst of all this, Tony Danza is rather good. He’s willing to throw himself into the part, try to bench-press all these recycled, glitzed-up gags. But, after a while, the weight gets too heavy; he seems to be working too hard. The actors who have the cornier, emptier roles, like Shawn, or who play down, like Catherine Hicks (as Doug’s nervous sweetie-pie fiancee), fare better. Of the two daughters, Ami Dolenz is a cool charmer, and Laura Mooney, as her little sister, has snappy timing and a great, raucous laugh. (She still won’t make you forget Diana Lynn.)

Director Stan Dragoti, cinematographer Don Peterman, editor Dov Hoenig and composer Alan Silvestri are like super-couturiers working on a Plain Jane. They give this empty movie pace and sheen, style and visual zonk; when Dragoti shoots a drag race, he winds up copying, frame for frame, the chicken run in “Rebel Without a Cause.” But they’ve made a sometimes funny, mostly media-referential movie without much real life; a high-tech, high-pro job that has a glamor-robot feel. In the film, Fishbinder has a vanity license plate that reads “I SHRINK.” If this production team had a car pool, they ought to get plates that read “WE DEAL.”


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