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FAST, CHEAP & OUT OF CONTROL (director/producer: Earl Morris; cinematographer: Robert Richardson; editors: Shondra Merrill/Karen Schmeer; music: Caleb Sampson; cast: Dave Hoover (lion tamer), George Mendonca (topiary gardener), Ray Mendez (mole-rat specialist, Rodney Brooks (robot specialist); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: PG; Sony Pictures Classics; 1997)
Morris’s juggling act as ringmaster somehow lucidly connects everything and comes up with an entertaining, dazzling and profound film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A uniquely interesting documentary from Earl Morris (“Gates of Heaven”/”The Thin Blue Line”/”A Brief History of Time”) that seems unlikely to mesh together as anything but mush, but surprisingly manages to intercut among his subjects being interviewed and footage from old B-movie serials and what emerges is an unforgettable cohesive work. It focuses on the lives of four independent-minded, self-confessed obsessives whose field of interest reflects their unique personalities: a lion tamer, a robotics engineer, a topiary gardener, and a biologist. With no logical text or a clearly drawn theme, it’s amazing to see how Morris’s juggling act as ringmaster somehow lucidly connects everything and comes up with an entertaining, dazzling and profound film.

Dave Hoover is a retired circus wild-animal trainer of big cats with plenty of tales to tell out of school, who idolized the late Clyde Beatty. Hoover gives as the reason lion tamers aim wooden chairs at the big cats is that the four legs move the animals to another idea from the one they had when they were let into the center ring, such as “eating the guy in the white suit.”

Ray Mendez is an expert on African mole rats. He’s a veteran from the old school, representing a dying breed, who relates that the survival instincts of mole-rats are greater than those of humans.

Rodney Brooks is a robot scientist at MIT studying artificial intelligence in his lab. He provided the film’s title with the statement that we should send on the Mars mission hundreds of robots into space because they are—fast, cheap, and out-of-control.

Lastly, there is the reticent George Mendonca, the designer of a topiary and a garden for a rich Rhode Island woman. He still serves there, long after her death, using hand shears for trimming because he can’t feel his creations otherwise such as his giraffe in the hedges, by using electric shears. The aging man has failed to get apprentices willing to take over the duties when he’s gone. No one has the patience for such an arduous artistic task. The topiaries will most likely die when he does, which saddens him.

“Out of Control” was the winner of an Independent Spirit award and Best Documentary awards from the National Board of Review and the Society of Texas Film Critics.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”