Kirk Douglas is so good in "Greedy" (general release) that you're tempted to forgive this wildly uneven satire its overkill script and often ponderous direction.
Douglas is cast as an aged but vigorous self-made scrap-metal tycoon whose declining health neither prevents him from going to work nor taking tremendous relish in watching his various nephews and nieces currying slavish favor in hopes of inheriting his $20-million fortune.
It is gratifying to see a great veteran star in a major role--no cameo this--in which he brings a lifetime of experience in a portrayal rich in sly, deft nuances and details. Douglas' sheer presence holds the film together when all else flounders. Ironically, with a tough-minded rewrite and a lighter touch, "Greedy" might have been as good as Douglas.
What's wrong here is crystal clear from the start. Writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who should have known better, load up Douglas with three craven nephews--Ed Begley Jr., Phil Hartman and Jere Burns--and an equally grabby niece, Colleen Camp, and caricature them to the extent that they don't seem to be in the same film with Douglas' long-lost grandnephew, Michael J. Fox, his girlfriend, Nancy Travis, or Douglas' gorgeous but honorable new companion, Olivia d'Abo. (Douglas, luckily, is able to play off them all.)
The relentlessly one-dimensional cousins and their awful spouses become tiresome and stupendously obvious even before they've completed their first scenes; one or two cousins would have sufficed.
There are moments when you wonder why anyone would pay to see a money-isn't-everything lecture from two of the most successful screenwriters in the history of the movies, and Ganz and Mandel's bursts of moralizing tend to overshadow their valid point of how even the nicest people--i.e., Fox's none-too-successful pro bowler and d'Abo's decent care-giver--can be tempted by vast sums without even realizing it.
The writers also don't overlook the tycoon's own responsibility in the degrading, endless manipulation of his relatives. The film doesn't shy away from the tycoon's darker side and neither does Douglas.
Ultimately, however, director Jonathan Lynn cannot impose any kind of evenness of tone upon "Greedy," which wants too hard to be a ruthlessly honest and bouncy mainstream entertainment at the same time.
As with Douglas, Lynn and the writers do very well by d'Abo and especially Fox, who holds on to our sympathies even when his well-meaning character is in danger of selling out. Travis, who is able to be simultaneously funny and beautiful in the stylish tradition of Sally Kellerman and Carole Lombard, is most welcome as a consistent moral force and reality check.
"Greedy," which is slick and shiny-looking, isn't up to par with either Lynn's "My Cousin Vinny" or Ganz and Mandel's "A League of Their Own," "City Slickers" and other hits reaching back to "Splash."
Michael J. Fox: Daniel
Kirk Douglas: Uncle Joe
Nancy Travis: Robin
Olivia d'Abo: Molly
A Universal release of an Imagine Entertainment presentation. Director Jonathan Lynn. Producer Brian Grazer. Executive producers David T. Friendly, George Folsey Jr. Screenplay Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel. Cinematographer Gabriel Beristain. Editor Tony Lombardo. Costumes Shay Cunliffe. Music Randy Edelman. Production designer Victoria Paul. Art director Dan Webster. Set designers Lauren Polizzi, Cheryl T. Smith. Set decorator Anne H. Ahrens. Sound Robert Anderson Jr. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for language. Times guidelines: It includes mild swearing and adult situations.