Fast, Cheap & Out of Control

Movie review by
M. Faust, Common Sense Media
Fast, Cheap & Out of Control Movie Poster Image
Unusual documentary pointless but engrossing.
  • PG
  • 1997
  • 82 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The studies of scientists and researchers obsessed with their subjects are celebrated here in a compelling manner.


Brief discussion of mole rat reproductive habits.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's little objectionable in this documentary, but its subject matter and (at times confusing) story-telling techniques are too esoteric for younger kids.

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What's the story?

FAST, CHEAP & OUT OF CONTROL is an unique portrait of four unique men with even more unique professions. Dave Hoover is a circus lion trainer. Ray Mendez is a research scientist who has devoted his career to studying the Naked Mole Rat, an unusual animal that seems to have as much in common with insects as it does with mammals. George Mendonca is a man in his 60s who has spent his adult life as a topiary gardener, fashioning living shrubs into the shapes of animals. And Rodney Brooks is an engineer at MIT who develops and builds robots. All four are deeply involved in their professions, and offer thoughts about the nature and theory of what they do.

Is it any good?

In its subtle way, this film celebrates the activity of studying and learning, and in a way that is sure to engage those who have the patience to stick with it. With no apparent plan, filmmaker Errol Morris introduces us to four men who seem to have nothing in common; the movie is less about what these men do than it is about their impulse to strive and perfect. These four men are fascinating nonetheless, as they pursue tasks that initially look bizarre and pointless. If training lions to jump through flaming hoops rather than to attack their trainer seems like a useless way to spend a life, Mr. Hoover still possesses a strong and deep grasp of his craft and its history. And even chaos has its uses, as the robot engineer realizes.

It shares the joys of mastering a craft and indulging intellectual curiosity. Younger kids may desire more of a traditional narrative, but teens may especially like the movie's odd sensibilities. The movie leaves viewers with the notion that it could have focused on any four dedicated professionals, regardless of interest. Morris assembles his interviews and illustrations in a way that at first seems merely pointless and silly. He uses clips from old movies that often have nothing to do with what the speaker is saying. He also puts one subject's words over images of another's work. The connections he begins to make, though, are always compelling -- even more compelling are the ones we make ourselves, as we catch the men's contagious curiosity.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the filmmaker's story-telling techniques. How was this documentary different from other documentaries you've watched? What, if anything, did the rapid cuts and interposed material add ot this film? Do you think the filmmaker succeeded in getting across his point? Why or why not?

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