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How to Get Ahead in Advertising Reviews

More satire than comedy, and aimed at a sophisticated audience that can appreciate its barbs at the business of "creating need," HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING is a movie of extremes, both in plot and characterizations. Dennis Bagley (Richard E. Grant), a veteran advertising executive who has all the perks of success--an attractive wife (Rachel Ward), a country home, and an expensive car--undergoes a drastic change of heart when a creative block prevents him from coming up with an ad campaign for pimple cream. Quitting his job and embarking on an "anti-advertising" campaign, Dennis is soon plagued by a huge boil on the side of his neck that takes on a human visage and becomes Dennis's alter ego. Eventually, the boil, an unprincipled proponent of a "buyer beware" philosophy, even takes possession of Dennis's being. In asking the audience to decide which is the real Dennis Bagley, writer-director Bruce Robinson is not only concerned with the moral implications of advertising but with those of capitalism in general. Clearly, he has stacked his deck, allowing Grant (who starred in Robinson's wonderful WITHNAIL AND I) to push his character to the outer limits. More subtlety or quiet introspection might have lent greater credibility to the role, though Grant and Robinson unquestionably have made their point.