Director Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan reunite on “Greed,” their fourth film together. This time, the duo are outside their ongoing “The Trip” franchise, tackling fame and greed.
The 2019 film, which debuted to little fanfare at the Toronto International Film Festival, has its predictable moments of British sarcasm — most of the jokes play like Ricky Gervais insulting the Golden Globe audience.
The message, unfortunately, is lost in much of the buffoonery. Coogan is playing another facet of the arrogant character he’s made a career on, as “Greed” is sprinkled with high-profile B-list cameos from the likes of Simon Cowell, Kylie Minogue and Stephen Fry.
From the fashion industry to reality celebrities, everyone who’s rich gets a jab from Winterbottom’s script, which ends with the cold reality of Indian sweatshop statistics.
Sir Richard McCreadie (Coogan) is a self-made billionaire who has made a living on swindling others. After being kicked out of a fancy prep school following the death of his father, the mirrored ruthlessness of his mother (Shirley Henderson) propelled him toward the bargain-bin fashion industry.
“Greedy McCreadie,” as they call him, found success in competing with cheap turnover clothing stores like H&M and Zara. His success has brought him to his 60th birthday party in Greece where he’s inviting anyone and everyone, paying them if he has to, to prove to the world that McCreadie is still a viable brand after all the bankruptcy charges and damaging headlines.
His ex-wife and business partner Samantha (Isla Fisher) always by his side, along with new a teenage girlfriend nearly the same age as his youngest son (Asa Butterfield) and with Syrian refugees lining the beach and a half-built replica of the fighting pits from “Gladiator” (complete with a real lion), it will be a weekend to remember.
One of the most ridiculous elements of “Greed” is Shirley Henderson (“Bridget Jones’ Diary”) playing Coogan’s mother, since the two actors’ ages are only about one month apart. The editing choice of the film is off-putting at best, flashing back within a flashback within a flashback.
For a film that demands your attention, it’s a chore trying to keep up with the timeline. Most of the various timelines only exist to deliver a single joke, but the humor is so dark, cringe-worthy even, that the extra effort to roll out one joke is unjustified. One of the funnier moments occurs when Sarah Solemani, Fisher and Coogan are all discussing which high-profile performers they can afford. The joke is Tom Jones is much cheaper than Elton John, Shakira or Ed Sheeran. “We’ll take two Tom Jones please,” McCreadie quips.
Per usual with Winterbottom films, the location is a character, with Mykonos getting the leading role here.
It’s no coincidence that Coogan and Winterbottom are also shooting their “fifth-coming” “Trip to Greece” sequel. Similar to political award show speeches or Soderbergh’s “The Laundromat,” “Greed” is a statement film dressed up as entertainment and, despite good intentions, shedding light on subjects we’re astutely aware of.
“Greed” is unlikely to motivate people to stop spending money on certain things and will likely fall on deaf ears.
Final Thought: Despite a handful of sarcastic digs, “Greed” isn’t one of the better Coogan/Winterbottom collaborations.