Monday, January 3, 2011


The fields of comedy are littered with mistakes where they just throw together a bunch of comedians and assumed that the humor would automatically come, only to find that a good script and talented director were also needed (witness the weak tea that was Transylvania 6-5000 or Who’s Harry Crumb? for some perfect examples). Fortunately, Greedy had the wonderful Jonathan Lynn at the helm, whose previous efforts had included the likes of Clue and My Cousin Vinny, so we wound up getting this wonderful, incredibly hateful and mean-spirited black comedy that’s just filled to the brim with great comedic talent.

The premise of the film is that Uncle Joe (Kirk Douglas) is a rich old man whose nieces and nephews all come to his mansion to suck up to him for his birthday in the hopes that when he dies soon they’ll be the ones favored in his will. It seems that for their entire lives, Uncle Joe has been nothing but mean to them and tried to pit them all against each other, and his relatives (led by Phil Hartman and Ed Begley Jr.) have put up with it so they could get at his fortune, but now they discover that he’s recently hired on a sexy young “nurse” (Olivia d’Abo) that seems to spend most of her time swimming naked in his pool, and are terrified that he’s just going to leave his fortune to her instead. They work out a plan to bring in fellow nephew Daniel (Michael J. Fox), since Daniel’s father was the only family member who was able to walk away from Joe’s money, in the hopes that Daniel will be able to make Joe focus on his family over his hot new houseguest. Unfortunately, soon the money starts to eat away at Daniel’s principles as well, and he winds up being as much of a schemer as anyone else.

While some may disagree, I’m of the opinion that comedy is usually at its best when it’s really dark and mean-spirited, and boy, is this one as mean as one can get short of having Danny DeVito direct it. The dialogue is about as cutting as you can get without just filming divorce proceedings. Right from the start, when the family all sits down for dinner with Joe, they immediately begin revealing each other’s dirty laundry, from alcoholism to a divorce (the pair still showed up together so that nothing would seem awry) to my personal favorite, the blackmail photos Phil Hartman acquired of his cousin with an aerobics instructor:

Glen (Jere Burns, examining the photos): This isn’t me.
Frank (Hartman): No, but it looks like you and that’s all that matters.

And all through this, and after Daniel arrives, Uncle Joe is obviously toying with all of them the entire time, lying to Fox and d’Abo about what the other had told him to see what they’ll try next to prove their greater worth of his fortune. And escalate they do: while Hartman goes the rather unsubtle route of telling d’Abo that “people have accidents”, d’Abo takes to walking around in lingerie and see-through clothes to attract Douglas’s interests, and Fox goes even farther, in a payoff that it would not be fair to reveal here.

The film does unfortunately go on a little too long, and it has a borderline sentimental climax and ending that don’t really fit with the rest of the movie. However, while it is always annoying when a movie doesn’t end as well as it begins, it’s certainly not enough to be a fatal flaw here, and if an overly long runtime also means more of Phil Hartman, then that’s something I am willing to take. There really weren’t enough good movies with him before he was murdered, and I would say that this was the best we got outside of his TV work. Oh, and obviously everyone else was good too, aside from the child actors, who were largely miserable in their brief performances. I suppose it’s an inherent flaw in the material; ask a child for his character to behave like a monster, and he’ll end up acting like the same kind of annoying child that you’re hoping not to get stuck sitting near in the theater. They don’t get much face time, though, as well they shouldn’t.

These are all small problems, though. The film as a whole is a hoot, and I highly recommend it to anyone that likes their comedy nice and dark. Put it this way: if you proudly own a copy of Death to Smoochy in your DVD collection, you should absolutely try this film out.

Rating: *** ½

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