Fast, Cheap And Out Of Control

on October 03, 1997 by Jon Alon Walz
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Renowned documentarian and social critic Errol Morris, best known for his controversial film "The Thin Blue Line," has once again pushed the boundaries of film narrative with this new work. Either by design or accident, "Fast, Cheap & Out of Control" is less a classically structured documentary than a strangely urgent examination of what the human race is becoming.
   Culled from interviews with four unrelated men--a robotics designer, a lion tamer, a man who studies mole rats, and a topiary gardener--Morris weaves the stories of their job obsessions together with footage of old movies and stylized b-rolls of the men at work, creating a warped narrative that keeps his actual content (and intent) a mystery for most of the picture. Out of this jumble comes an interesting meditation on the nature of human control over environment and other life forms, and on the theory that--because of this behavior in a world of increasing information and technology-- humans are on a path that could lead to us inventing ourselves out of existence.
   Much as he did in 1992's "A Brief History of Time," Morris in this Fourth Floor/American Playhouse production uses stark visual imagery (courtesy of Oscar-winning director of photography Robert Richardson) and heavy original music to set moods to emphasize his narrative points. After pondering the notions offered by the film, and the unusual and random choice of subjects, one is left wondering if the universal questions posed would have even been suggested if a different group had been selected for study. But it's still amazing that Morris was able to pull such deep, probing material out of such a motley group of "normal" people, and it's here where the film and the filmmaking succeeds. With Dave Hoover, George Mendonca, Ray Mendez, Rodney Brooks. Directed and produced by Errol Morris. A Sony Classics release. Documentary. Rated PG for mild thematic elements. Running time: 82 min. Screened at the Sundance fest.
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