The New York Times
The Living Arts
Friday, March 4, 1994
BEWARE OF FEUDING KIN BEARING BIRDS OF PREY
By Janet Maslin
"Greedy," which has the makings of a gleefully malevolent
family comedy, begins on a note of inspired wickedness. Members
of the McTeague clan are making their slavish pilgrimage to the
home of Uncle Joe (Kirk Douglas), the foxy old millionaire whose
health is very much on their minds. Nobody likes Uncle Joe, but
the McTeagues can agree on this much: they want his money. Bearing
stuffed birds of prey (which the old man apparently loves) and shepherding
children with names like Joette and Jolene, they will do anything
to win their uncle's favor.
"Try and bring up my cousin Tina's drinking," Carl McTeague
(Ed Begley Jr.) advises his family as they all head for the mansion.
Once they arrive, "Greedy" spins out a hilarious scene
in which the cousins do their best to embarrass each other for Uncle
Joe's benefit. Fending off one such attack, Frank (Phil Hartman)
typically declares: "I guess you have a lot of time to notice
these things, Ed, now that you're out of work." Uncle Joe originated
the McTeague mean streak, and he thrives on this sort of thing.
"Greedy" gives all the McTeagues something to worry about,
in the eye-catching form of Molly (Olivia d'Abo), the young British
blond who is Uncle Joe's new companion. Formerly a bikini model
and pizza deliverer, Molly has lately moved in and turned the old
man's head. "Her tongue is practically in his wallet!"
exclaims Frank, who, as played by Mr. Hartman, is the funniest member
of this miserable clan. Taking it upon himself to browbeat Molly,
Frank delivers the nastiest slur he can think of. "I didn't
like the Beatles," he sneers, "and I don't like you."
Far from the bosom of his family is Daniel McTeague (Michael J.
Fox) a professional bowler whom nobody much misses. His cousins
have not forgiven Daniel for once being nicknamed "Uncle Joe's
special boy." But when the cousins decide to produce Daniel
as a birthday surprise and send a detective (Khandi Alexander) to
find him, Daniel becomes reimmersed in his family's craziness. He
also discovers, to his horror, that he, too, is becoming interested
in Uncle Joe for the wrong reasons. It turns out that there is a
bowling alley Daniel would invest in if he had the chance.
"Greedy" works fine whenever it allows all this venality
to run free, preventing its principals from becoming any more charitable
than the characters in a Preston Sturges comedy. At times, the director,
Jonathan Lynn, ("My Cousin Vinny"), displays a refreshing
misanthropy that Mr. Sturges himself might have appreciated. Mr.
Lynn also happens to give one of the film's funniest performances,
playing Douglas, the butler whom Uncle Joe likes to splash when
he's in the swimming pool. Upon hearing that Molly, whose interest
was formerly platonic, is about to sleep with the frail old millionaire,
Douglas says: "Sir? May I ask for a reference before you go
There hangs over "Greedy" a terrible possibility that
these characters may get over their avarice and develop some form
of fellowship. The screenplay, by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel,
flirts too often with this kind of danger. Once Daniel and Uncle
Joe are reunited, the film finds time for much more soul-searching
and value-questioning than any audience really wants to see, and
its momentum suffers accordingly. It's a great relief when the film
shakes off its doldrums to end on a sneaky note.
Mr. Fox, who has been the unsung hero of many a movie comedy, once
again displays deft timing and all the sprightly energy his role
demands. (This film may incorporate a few beefcake shots of Mr.
Fox and show him to be a good bowler, but it keeps him on familiar
territory; his screen personal here is still determinedly boyish.)
Mr. Douglas has great fun with the role of the old reprobate, and
he and Mr. Fox work well together even when the material shows its
Also in the cast are Bob Balaban, Colleen Camp and Jere Burns as
various nattering McTeagues. And Nancy Travis plays Daniel's level-headed
girlfriend. Those looking for cinematic allusions will be made mindful
of both Erich von Stroheim (whose "Greed" had its own
McTeague, from Frank Norris's novel) and Nora Ephron. Like "Sleepless
in Seattle," "Greedy" treats Jimmy Durante as an
"Greedy" is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned).
It includes profanity, sexual suggestiveness and very brief nudity.