Review: Greedy (1994)

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GreedyIn 1985 Michael J. Fox had done what very few actors had done before him – be highly successful on Television and film at the same time. Not only was he spearheading the highly successful sitcom ‘Family Ties’ but he was the star of the most successful film of that year ‘Back To The Future’, as well as having another hit with ‘Teen Wolf’. An enormously successful film career seemed his for the taking.

But instead his film career gradually lost momentum and by the mid-1990s his career was focussed largely on sitcom television. It was perceived that he lacked a certain gravitas or presence required to last on the big screen. But after viewing him in the 1994 comedy ‘Greedy’, this seems to be an unfair call.

Directed by Jonathan Lynn, ‘Greedy’ is centred on Joe (Kirk Douglas) a self-made millionaire in his twilight years surrounded by an array of slimy family relatives only interested in his inheritance. Panicked by Joe developing a close relationship with his nurse (Olivia D’Abo), the relatives draft in Daniel (Michael J. Fox) the son of an estranged relative and whom Joe took a shine to as a young child. But in multiple ways, things don’t go as planned.

Even though ‘Greedy’ was made less than 20 years ago, it feels almost refreshingly ancient in its film style. In a present era where comedies consider chaos, action, noise and freneticism as the basis for humour, ‘Greedy’ feels a refreshing contrast. It’s leisurely paced, limited background music and lengthy scenes. Clearly Lynn had the confidence in the screenplay and cast to deliver what was required without artificial manipulation and he is largely justified. In what has been an uneven career, this is one of his better efforts.

‘Greedy’ is bolstered by having a deep and talented cast. A particular standout is Phil Hartman as probably the slimiest of the relatives. Wisely he’s only in the film sparingly so he is able to go at full blast throughout, creating a gem of a comic performance. My favourite bit is when he tells the British nanny, “I didn’t like the Beatles and I don’t like you.”

Douglas clearly has a ball with the role of Joe. As portrayed in the film it’s easy to see why he’s disliked by so many but Douglas uses his charisma and charm to make him mischievously likable, even when it’s clear he’s pulling tricks on just about every other character in the movie.

But the key character and performance in the film is Fox as Daniel and he does an impressive job with it. Not only his well-known comic timing on display, but he also gives his character convincing dramatic substance in how he’s struggled through life and how Joe treats him. It enables us to empahsise and care about his plight and give added weight to the film’s more dramatic scenes. It’s a fine performance and pivotal to the film’s success.

The film is quite deft in how it develops Daniel’s character throughout the film. We are introduced to him as having a decent persona, in a good romantic relationship but dispirited by his failure as a professional tenpin bowler. Thrust into the madness of Joe and his scheming relatives, Daniel loses his bearings and becomes gradually corrupted. In a film populated by various types and caricatures, the realistic portrayl of Daniel’s characterisation is essential to maintaining one’s interest over the fairly lengthy running time.

Director Lynn also makes the wise decision to begin the film from the perspective of (relatively speaking) the least loathsome of the relatives only interested in Joe’s money. While they’re not likable, it helps one have some empathy for their plight and how they’ve been stuck for years in grovelling towards Joe at every turn in the forlorn hope for monetary assistance.

‘Greedy’ has a difficult task of balancing several contrasting styles within the one film. It has both realistic characters and comic buffoons that are basically caricatures. It has scenes largely of drama, but also scenes not only of comedy but slapstick and farce. For the most part the film maintains the balance very well, with the possible exception of a climatic scene in a legal office where drama and farce clash to a rather disconcerting effect.

Also, in the middle stages ‘Greedy’ gets somewhat bogged down in the rather convoluted and confusing nature of its plot (especially related to Joe’s scheming). A segment where Joe takes his nurse for a seemingly romantic encounter in Washington could’ve probably been excised from the film entirely.

Largely ignored upon its release and perceived as symbolic of Fox’s failure to cement a long-term film career, ‘Greedy’ can be seen now as an fine and funny film which is a good demonstration of Fox’s talents.

Rating: B

16 responses »

  1. I was just thinking this about Michael J. Fox while I watched the insufferable adaptation of Bright Lights Big City. It seems he didn’t want to be pigeon-holed perhaps, as Marty McFly or Michael Keaton (?) and so he wanted to branch out to more serious roles. It seems he didn’t make the best choices to keep the J. Fox brand alive. Though The Hard Way was vintage Fox and it was *awesome*.
    I want to see this now, as i haven’t before, and I’ll check it out. It was Lynn’s movie right after he did Clue, right? (Clue is an underrated comic masterpiece-that I happened to see 3 times in the theater).

  2. GREEDY is one of those rare, not-great movies that I can’t turn off if I come across it on TV. STREET KINGS is another. I am ashamed of neither.

  3. Well, it has an inexplicable running time. It meanders through its story. Meanders. It spends an inexplicable amount of time on bowling (Really, it could have been one scene. One scene and we could have gotten it). Some of the sets are some of the fakest things ever with ’50’s era rear projection (I think these likely may have been pick-ups). At least 4 fairly large scenes could have been excised. It’s strange how long each scene takes to get through.
    Every time the movie goes off-the-rails in a scene, it gets adeptly back on (as in the scene between Fox and his wife after his dance and the greatly funny ‘Hotel Lobby’ scene and ‘large boardroom’ scene). The movie is like a driver falling asleep at the wheel on a long, unending stretch of road. The car drifts and drifts as the sleepy driver loses control and right before the car slips off the road in a fiery crash, the driver jerks awake and pulls the wheel at the last moment, the adrenaline works a while, but then the car begins drifting again.
    But it had Michael J. Fox, a great Kirk Douglas, a spot-on Phil Hartman (damn, he really was brilliant), a beautiful woman with a beautiful British accent, a Ferrari Testarossa, and a great ending. And I couldn’t stop watching.

  4. And this was long after Clue. I wasn’t aware Lynn did My Cousin Vinny. He also did Distinguished Gentleman, which I think I’ll watch next. And that can clear my palate for my ‘Sidney Lumet Retrospective’.

  5. Interesting observations filmman – certainly it’s lesiurely pace wouldn’t be everyone (especially by today’s frenetic standards) but it quite appealed to me because of it.

    The ‘large boardroom’ shows the film at it’s best and worst imo. It goes forever and has some misguided slapstick and violence, but it has some great stuff from Hartman and the serious confrontation between Fox and Douglas at the end of it works really well.

    GREEDY is one of those rare, not-great movies that I can’t turn off if I come across it on TV. STREET KINGS is another. I am ashamed of neither.

    I’d seen snippets of ‘Greedy’ on TV over the years but never really watched it. But I came across the final third of it on pay-TV a couple of years ago and like Rob, I found it surprisingly gripping. It actually led me to buy the DVD of it so I could see it in full.

  6. And this was long after Clue. I wasn’t aware Lynn did My Cousin Vinny. He also did Distinguished Gentleman, which I think I’ll watch next.

    From what I recall of it, ‘The Distinguished Gentleman’ is pretty dire, especially in its leaden attempts to tug at the heartstrings when Murphy’s character gets a conscience.

    And while it was a BO success and got a positive reputation, I didn’t think much of ‘The Whole Nine Yards’ at all. Barely a laugh in it, despite Matthew Perry’s endless sub-Clouseauesque pratfalls.

  7. And while it was a BO success and got a positive reputation, I didn’t think much of ‘The Whole Nine Yards’

    I quite enjoyed it.

    And please don’t think I’m bagging on this. It was well worth the time and like you say, really quite affecting (and Douglas does the ending perfectly). I just don’t know where the editors were. 2 hours? An hour and a half would have made a quite affecting little movie.
    And Hartman is so, so good in even his limited screen time.

    I will not be deterred from ‘Gentleman’, sir. I’m gonna soldier through it.

  8. I enjoyed Distinguished Gentleman when I saw it, but I was in high school at the time. I didn’t have the West Wing or House of Cards to show me how Washington *really* works (ha ha). I love Clue.

    Thanks for this review, Marco. I don’t think I had ever heard of this movie either but want to see it now.

  9. “Communism is just a red herring…”

    Whenever someone mentions the movie ‘Clue’, it’s like the Abbott and Costello clip, ‘Susquehanna Hat Company’. Whenever someone mentions the name, I feel like I have to turn around and say ‘Communism is just a red herring…”

  10. Great review. I’ve seen Greedy countless times, but my viewings typically involve a liberal use of the fast forward button (for the aforementioned lulls…most of which involve Fox and Kirk Douglas’ characters).

    Lynn really did excel at casting. This still has one of the best ensembles of comic players (Hartman, Bob Balaban, Jere Burns, Siobhan Fallon, Colleen Camp, Ed Begley Jr.) that I’ve seen.

    “No, shitting a sailboat…that’s a shock. This is a f–king catastrophe!”

  11. Thanks for bringing old 90’s movies like this back to my attention by doing these reviews, Marco.
    Maybe a regular column?

  12. Thanks for the kind words filmman. Doing a regular column is a good idea but probably beyond me as I only do full-length reviews when I’m really motivated and think I have something to say, which can be about any film from any era. As it currently stands, I only average one a month.

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