October 08, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

If Michael J. Fox had searched all of Hollywood for a script that would make him look like a floundering ’80s leftover, he couldn’t have done much better than For Love or Money: The whole movie is an ’80s leftover. You know you’re in for it as soon as you see the lobby of The Bradbury, a posh Fifth , Avenue hotel in which Doug Ireland (Fox), a hustler with a heart of gold, works as a concierge. With its white-brick walls, marble floors, and kitschy-deluxe filigree banisters, the lobby evokes the swank uppercrust settings of Hollywood farces from the ’30s and ’40s. Except that no one really knows how to stage a farce anymore. The best the director, Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family), can come up with is cartoonish close-ups of the hotel’s ”wacky” employees (flaky newsstand lady, senile bellhop, fey desk manager). And so the opulent ambience seems little more than a soggy throwback to Reagan-era retro chic.

For Love or Money is a comedy that feels like a wake. A lame attempt to recycle elements from Fox’s pretty funny 1987 hit, The Secret of My Success, and also from Wall Street, the movie has Doug hooking up with a mean, Eurotrash entrepreneur (Anthony Higgins) who has promised to finance Doug’s dream of opening a luxury hotel. Naturally, he has to go and screw things up by falling in love with the entrepreneur’s lovely young girlfriend (Gabrielle Anwar). Fox works so hard here to seem like a sweet, earnest, put-upon nice guy—a pint-size Jimmy Stewart—that you have to pinch yourself to remember that he became a star (on Family Ties) by playing a flaming jerk. I’m always rooting for Fox, but as a performer he has gradually turned to mush. He now lacks any trace of the moonbeam sparkle that once made his boyishness so appealing.

Of course, a decent script might help. Watching For Love or Money, you can see every awful back-to-the-’80s moment coming: the ham-fisted slapstick number with Fox (seen in long shot) leaping off a balcony to escape a beach-house party; the skin-crawling scene in which Anwar, a nonactress with a coy schoolgirl sniffle to rival Mariel Hemingway’s, proves her ”soul” by singing a hot-mama torch song; and the moment when Fox lovingly unveils the design for his hotel, with romantic yuppie sax music swelling in the background. By now, I’m not sure even Donald Trump could love a movie that asks us to get misty-eyed over real estate. D+

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