The Art of Climbing Up And Taking Over. `Working Girl' takes a lighthearted view of office chicanery. FILM: REVIEW

DO you ever get a sense of d'ej`a vu at the movies? That's been happening to me lately.

Take the comedy ``Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,'' about confidence men bilking wealthy folks in the French Riviera sunshine. It's like ``The Pink Panther'' in many ways - the original ``Pink Panther'' more than the sequels - with its leisurely pace and gorgeous European settings.

Even the performances are out of the past: Steve Martin recalls Peter Sellers and Jerry Lewis, while Michael Caine waltzes through his role just like dignified David Niven used to do.

``Working Girl'' is another new movie that reminds me of an earlier picture. But the film it recalls is more recent: ``Wall Street,'' which came out just over a year ago. ``Working Girl'' is a comedy, of course. But just like ``Wall Street,'' it takes place in New York's high-powered financial district. Also like ``Wall Street,'' it's about wheeling and dealing that's anything but honest.

Melanie Griffith plays the main character, a low-level assistant in the business world. She's smart and ambitious. But she's afraid she'll be stuck forever near the bottom of the corporate ladder, no matter how many courses she takes or bright ideas she comes up with.

Then the unexpected happens. She takes a job with a new boss (a woman, as it happens) who promptly gets laid up with a broken leg in a faraway place. Our heroine strikes immediately, taking over the boss's position, authority, even her clothing - without the slightest shred of permission - and putting her own business ideas into operation. This is all smartly directed, by Mike Nichols, and cleverly acted by its expert cast.

AS the phony executive, Ms. Griffith gives one of the past year's very best performances - it would be the best if she didn't sag a little during the climax, when it seems her character's world is caving in, and she has to think faster than ever.

Harrison Ford is sharp and understated as a businessman who gets roped into her scheme, and Sigourney Weaver does her most likable work in ages as the ultra-yuppie boss. I even give Ms. Weaver a few extra points for letting the script poke fun (not once but twice) at what it calls her ``bony'' physique.

The trouble with ``Working Girl'' is that it's not only a comic version of ``Wall Street''; it's an amoral version. I can't imagine anyone looking at ``Wall Street'' and not getting the message that lying and conniving are bad, for people and for business. ``Working Girl'' misses that point completely.

True, it gives the heroine an excuse for what she's doing: The boss has stolen an idea from her, which eases her into the old ``everybody cheats a little'' frame of mind and feebly justifies her own chicanery. But the movie's basic message is that lying and conniving are perfectly all right - as long as you're a swell person inside, like the pert character we're watching here.

``Working Girl'' is a fun movie in many ways - don't get me wrong. But it's not really on a fun subject, which is why I felt a little uneasy about it, even as I enjoyed its lighthearted surface.

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