Fox takes all the fun out of 'Greedy'

March 04, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

People who use people are the greediest people in the world -- and that includes movie producers.

Thus "Greedy," which arrives advanced by a hilarious and promising trailer that's been playing for weeks now, is not only a shocking disappointment but feels almost like a swindle. The movie makes you feel used.

Its trailer seems to promise a deliciously cynical view of an insanely greedy family, in which cousins maneuver and counter-maneuver for position as they try to kiss up to a rich, hopelessly debauched old uncle to get first in line for the coming inheritance.

And that's in the movie -- for about three minutes.

Alas, and I report this with heavy heart and furrowed brow, "Greedy" is really just another Michael J. Fox picture.

Michael worries! Michael whimpers! Michael waffles! Michael wiggles! Michael wobbles! See Michael worry, whimper, waffle, wiggle and wobble! See movie die, right before your very eyes!

The setup shows potential. The cousins and their horrid spouses and children are assembling for their annual suck-up fest at Uncle Joe's mansion. Agreeably played by such smarm-merchants as Bob Balaban, Phil Hartman, Ed Begley Jr. and Colleen Camp, they are unabashedly bald in their sniveling need to court crusty Old Joe's approval, and Joe (Kirk Douglas) has been sufficiently corrupted by their desperation and his own wealth to encourage them ever onward into more outrageous feats of pandering.

There's almost nothing more amusing than bad behavior, and for a bit, "Greedy" has it in spades. And for a bit, it's very funny. I particularly like the aggressively sleazy Hartman, a favorite from "Saturday Night Live," not missing a beat in his craven shamelessness.

But enter complication No. 1: Olivia D'Abo, in a bikini that you will probably notice, as Uncle Joe's new companion. Immediately, the cousins panic; will dotty Old Joe leave all the moola to the babe and therefore render all their bootlicking irrelevant?

In order to counter this threat, they find the long-lost nephew who all those years ago was Joe's favorite. The boy, now grown into someone who looks very much like the star of "Back to the Future," is, moreover, the son of the only family member Joe couldn't corrupt, Joe's brother, a peace and eco-crusader forever journeying to far-off climes to campaign for his own moral superiority.

But it's never quite clear what Fox is supposed to do -- kill the young woman? Suck up even harder than the other cousins? So for a long time, the movie founders: There's no clear conflict and no clear direction.

More generally, once Fox comes, the picture goes. The cousins are exiled to the periphery: Instead, the movie focuses somewhat tearily on Fox's moral dilemma, which is made more confusing by the presence of his wholesome (and dreary) girlfriend, played by Nancy Travis, urging him in the ceaselessly chipper voice of a sorority vice president to do the right thing.

Screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel have a brilliant record -- they wrote, among others, "Night Shift," "Splash" and "City Slickers" -- but they're nowhere near that level of accomplishment here. The movie feels as if it's three hours long, and plot twists arrive with the relentless regularity of punches in a Whack-a-mole game, and with such frenzy that they ultimately cancel each other out. They have no emotional impact. Instead of thinking, "Oh, no!" you're thinking, "So what?"

Worse, director Jonathan Lynn brings a kind of bright artificiality to all the goings-on, which set it clearly in the never-never land of the bad Hollywood movie. Lynn did the same thing on "My Cousin Vinnie," but was saved by a brilliant performance from Marisa Tomei. Nobody of Tomei's quality is anywhere in sight, so you're forced to look at the movie, where everything seems overlit, cheap and false under a sky so piercingly blue only a No. 6 filter on the lens could register it.

"Greedy" never pays up.


Starring Michael J. Fox and Kirk Douglas

Directed by Jonathan Lynn

Released by Universal

PG-13 rated

... **

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