The usually reliable pairing of director Michael Winterbottom and actor Steve Coogan hits a speed bump with Greed, perhaps the weakest movie the duo have ever produced.
The Winterbottom-Coogan combo has been responsible for, now, seven films, with such winners as the many Trip movies, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and, my personal favorite, 24 Hour Party People. When word hit me that the two were working on a new satire about the fashion world and the upper class, with Coogan headlining as a shifty millionaire, I said, “Sign me up!”
The resultant movie, written and directed by Winterbottom, is a muddled mess with only a few laughs and no true sense of purpose or direction. It starts as sort of fictional biopic, the making of fashion mogul Sir Richard McCreadie (Coogan), who will rise to power by buying up struggling clothes businesses and spinning them for dollars through bankruptcies and other manipulations. He basically steps on a lot of faces on his way to the top.
Problem number one is that there's nothing at all surprising or engaging about McCreadie or his rise to power. Coogan portrays the character through varying ages (a couple of other actors portray him at his youngest), and he seems to be going for a mixture of Donald Trump and Coogan's own Alan Partridge character. He sports big white teeth and a sweet tan—not unlike a certain cranky President.
The script basically calls for Coogan to be a real asshole, and we see him buying people out with no regard for their feelings and chastising well-meaning employees in public. There's just no reason to care about this guy, whether in flashback or the present day. It would help if he were nasty-funny, but very few moments come off as funny in this movie, so McCreadie is basically just an unpleasant presence and experience.
In the present, McCreadie is trying to put together a 60th birthday celebration featuring celebrities, a Roman Colosseum replica and a real lion. Celebrities tend to make a big deal of their 60th. (Howard Stern threw a big, star studded bash.) And maybe Winterbottom was trying to poke a little fun at those types of parties. Other than one funny joke featuring a George Michael impersonator, the whole big party premise is a dud.
Toward the end of the film, Winterbottom decides that his movie isn't really a comedy about greedy jerks at all. It's a scathing take on the fashion industry and the way it employs the underprivileged worldwide for menial sums. Or it wishes it was. The change in tone—including a violent “WTF” ending that comes out of nowhere—reeks of desperate storytelling. It's like Winterbottom set out to make a satire in his usual mode, but then decided his film needed to be The Big Short of fashion industry movies at the last minute. It all induces major head scratching.
Too bad. Coogan is almost always fun on screen, so it's a real task to make him a bore. Isla Fisher shows up as McCreadie's wife, and their unorthodox relationship could've been the basis of its own movie, but gets little screen time here. A subplot involving McCreadie's biographer feels like it was supposed to be a substantial part of the film but comes off as something that got lost in the editing room. There are other characters in this movie that suddenly rise up in a way where we are supposed to care about them and their plights, but the script has done nothing to justify such feelings.
No big deal. Entertainers who work together as much as Winterbottom and Coogan do are bound to lay an egg every now and then. Greed is a stinker, but the duo will rise above and entertain again. They are already working on another movie, and I'm sure there will be a couple after that before they are done. None of those, I assure you, will contain the further adventures of Sir Richard McCreadie.