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By Roger Piantadosi
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 04, 1994


Jonathan Lynn
Michael J. Fox;
Kirk Douglas;
Olivia d'Abo;
Phil Hartman;
Ed Begley Jr.;
Jere Burns;
Colleen Camp;
Bob Balaban;
Joyce Hyser;
Mary Ellen Trainor;
Kevin McCarthy
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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Like greed itself, "Greedy" kind of sneaks up on you. Before you realize what's happening, you might even find yourself recommending it to strangers.

Not that I would ever do that. No, no, that would be morally wrong. But still . . .

From his wheelchair, sly and scary self-made scrap-metal tycoon Kirk Douglas presides over a vividly despicable family. His potential heirs -- nephews Phil Hartman, Ed Begley Jr. and Jere Burns, niece Colleen Camp and their equally odious and/or obsequious spouses and kids -- count the days, and ways, toward their share of their uncle's $25 million inheritance. One night at his abundantly set table, Douglas silences the usual after-dinner backstab fiesta when he introduces the family to former pizza-delivery girl Olivia d'Abo -- who is also quite abundantly set, and who is furthermore Uncle's new live-in "nurse," he announces, relishing the ensuing round of dropped jaws.

Horrified at perhaps losing their rightful fortune to this transparent gold-digger, the cousins do what any red-blooded American movie family would do: They call in Michael J. Fox. The only son of the only nephew who long ago denounced his uncle's capitalist ways and then headed for Brazil to save the rain forests, Fox didn't follow his father into the do-good business; he's just an honest but luckless pro bowler with a bad wrist and a good woman (Nancy Travis). Offering him a share of the "profits," the cousins track him down; with nothing to lose and his curiosity up, he agrees to look in on the great-uncle who always seemed to like him . . .

And the fun starts, eh? Perhaps in hands less capable than those of chrome-plated, machine-tooled scriptwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel ("City Slickers," "Parenthood," "Splash") and loosen-them-up-and-let-them-act director Jonathan Lynn ("My Cousin Vinny"), this might well have been a silly formula farce. But somehow -- in the spare, violin-free manner of a good night at the theater -- "Greedy" actually sticks with you after it ends.

Douglas was definitely smart to postpone writing another autobiography for this role; with its equal opportunities for misty eyes and Machiavelli, it was made for him -- and even in a wheelchair he fills the room. Among the loathsome, Hartman is a singularly perfect loose cannon as their ruthless, relentlessly hateful ringleader. And if you're a Michael J. Fox fan, you won't be disappointed, particularly in his dances with the devilish Douglas. If you're not, you'll at least get to see him both naked (OK, from behind) and not winning fights, in one case simultaneously, as he wrestles with "Greedy's" central, Zen-like puzzle: You can have whatever you desire -- if you desire nothing.

Though not monumentally so, it's a theme with some relevance to these times of ethnic cleansing and figure-skating cartels, and credit is due the writers and director Lynn for building a decently wicked and occasionally hilarious little passion play around it.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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