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The ever-reliable pairing of director Michael Winterbottom and actor Steve Coogan hits a speed bump with Greed, the weakest movie this duo has produced.

The Winterbottom-Coogan combo has now been responsible for 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 I heard they were working on a satirical film about the fashion world and the upper class, with Coogan headlining as a shifty millionaire, I said: “Sign me up!”

Sadly, the result, written and directed by Winterbottom, is a muddled mess with only a few laughs and no true sense of purpose. It starts as a sort of fictional biopic—the making of fashion mogul Sir Richard McCreadie (Coogan), who rises to power by buying up struggling clothes businesses and spinning them for dollars through bankruptcies and other manipulations. He steps on a lot of faces on his way to the top.

Problem No. 1 is 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 tan, not unlike a certain cranky president.

The script basically calls for Coogan to be a real asshole. We see him buying people out with no regard for their feelings, and chastising well-meaning employees in public. There’s no reason to care about this guy, whether in flashback or the present day. It would help if he were nastily funny, but few moments come off as funny, so McCreadie is basically just an unpleasant 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 not long ago 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 party premise is a dud.

Toward the end of the film, Winterbottom decides the movie isn’t really a comedy about greedy jerks at all: Instead, it’s a scathing take on the fashion industry and the way it employs underprivileged people worldwide for menial sums. Well, that’s what Winterbottom apparently 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 way, but then decided his film needed to be The Big Short of fashion-industry movies at the last minute.

Too bad. Coogan is almost always fun onscreen, 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 it gets little screen time here. A subplot involving McCreadie’s biographer feels like it was supposed to be substantial, but it comes off as something that got lost in the editing room. There are other characters in this movie that suddenly appear, but the script has done nothing to justify the audience having any feelings about them.

Entertainers who work together as much as Winterbottom and Coogan do are bound to lay an egg every now and then—and Greed is indeed a stinker, but I have a feeling they 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. Thankfully, none of those will contain the further adventures of Sir Richard McCreadie.

Greed opens Friday, March 6, at several valley theaters.

Published in Reviews

Stan and Ollie got a late (and largely unsuccessful) awards-season push, coming seemingly out of nowhere with an incredible John C. Reilly (prosthetics-aided) performance as movie legend Oliver Hardy—and Steve Coogan is just as good as partner Stan Laurel.

The film chronicles the final days in their careers as their stardom has dwindled, and they set out on a low-budget theater tour to do some of their classic bits. The tour is meant to drum up interest for a new movie, but when Hardy falls ill, they are forced to reconsider not just the tour, but their friendship.

Reilly is incredible, as is the makeup, which will have you forgetting you are looking at the Step Brothers actor. He and Coogan have all of the duo’s mannerisms nailed. They re-create Laurel and Hardy moments that will bring tears to your eyes.

While the story isn’t a giant or complicated one, the two actors make it feel mighty big and authentic. They almost had me wishing they would just go back and remake stuff like March of the Wooden Soldiers in their Laurel and Hardy get-ups. There’s a moment when Laurel daydreams about a possible scene in a new movie, featuring Reilly falling in a puddle and mimicking Hardy’s “staring at the camera” exasperation. It’s uncanny.

Stan and Ollie opens Friday, Jan. 25, at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342); and the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan play a fighting gay couple forced to take in the Coogan character’s grandson in Ideal Home, a film that’s ultimately enjoyable because Rudd and Coogan take it above its silly sitcom tropes—and provide genuine laughs and real emotion.

Paul (Rudd) and Erasmus (Coogan) work on a cooking show together and live an upscale life. However, the two need to become parents overnight when Angel (Jack Gore) shows up at their door after his dad gets busted.

There are moments in this movie—registering the kid for school, visiting dad in jail, etc.—that feel like a thousand movies before it, and director Andrew Fleming throws in too many plugs for Taco Bell. These problems aside, Rudd and Coogan had me laughing consistently, and loudly, throughout the movie.

This really is a movie that could’ve been awful, but Rudd and Coogan don’t just salvage it; they actually make it worth recommending. Gore is ho-hum the precocious kid, which slows things down at times, but Jake McDorman is hilarious in his few onscreen moments as the dad. (McDorman and Coogan have a conversation in this movie that stands as one of the summer’s funniest film moments.)

The ever-reliable Rudd excels in almost every moment he’s onscreen—even when the writing isn’t up to snuff. Overall, Ideal Home provides a good pile of chuckles, and sometimes that’s all a comedy really needs to do.

Ideal Home is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The third time is the charm for the Night at the Museum franchise: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is first good movie in the lot.

The previous chapters lacked soul, laughs and a true sense of adventure. This installment allows Ben Stiller to clown around a little more and drop some better jokes. Having him play a second character—a Neanderthal man—is an inspired touch.

This time out, Larry (Stiller) discovers that the ancient tablet that gives the museum attractions the ability to come alive is deteriorating. He ultimately treks to London to solve the problem, visiting a museum where Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) comes to life.

Stevens is a nice addition; he’s consistently funny and wicked as the crazed knight. His subplot leads to him running onstage during a musical production of Camelot, which provides a pretty hilarious cameo that I won’t give away.

All of the usual characters are back, including Robin Williams, in one of his last roles, as Teddy Roosevelt. Mickey Rooney’s final appearance is also here; he has one twisted scene. Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan get a bunch of laughs as the cowboy and the Roman soldier, while the peeing monkey steals a bunch of scenes.

Stiller, director Shawn Levy and the cast finally get it right, and bring the series to what I hope is its conclusion. I never expected to laugh during a Night at the Museum movie—but I found myself giggling often during this one.

Special Features: A director’s commentary, a bunch of featurettes and some deleted and extended scenes make this a pretty packed disc.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Steve Coogan delivers one of his best screen performances in Alan Partridge, the long-rumored big-screen debut of the character who has been part of Coogan’s repertoire on TV and radio for years.

The film depicts Partridge as a radio host working for a company being bought out by an unfeeling corporation. When Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), one of Alan’s radio co-workers, gets the boot, Pat comes back with a shotgun and takes everybody hostage. Alan winds up as an intermediary between the police and Pat; he’s trying to negotiate his a way out of a crisis and keep his job at the same time.

Coogan is always funny in this film. Sure, he got a lot of press for last year’s Philomena, and film-lovers dug him in 24 Hour Party People and Tropic Thunder, but this movie is a true showcase of his sharp comic talents. He has a way with smarmy afterthoughts that makes him the king of the understated wiseasses.

As somebody who has spent a lot of time in radio, I can say that this movie offers an accurate presentation of the industry, as did Howard Stern’s Private Parts. Private Parts was made before computers really took over, though—an unfortunate radio reality that Alan Partridge has a lot of fun with. The movie definitely mocks the fact that old-school radio has been replaced by robots.

If you like British humor, this movie will certainly do the trick. It’s a film in which nearly every line of dialogue can result in a giggle, due in large part to Coogan’s stellar delivery.

The film is available for rental via online sources including Amazon.com and iTunes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

In The Look of Love, Steve Coogan reunites with his frequent director Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People) to tell the true story of Paul Raymond, Britain’s version of Hugh Hefner, who became one of Britain’s richest men before his death in 2008.

I knew nothing of this man before watching the film—which seems strange, considering he was so huge in England. He opened England’s first strip club, and followed that with soft-porn magazines and real-estate properties until he amassed a huge fortune.

Coogan plays Raymond as a likable-enough sort—even though he had a wandering eye and a lack of commitment when it came to relationships. Anna Friel (Land of the Lost) plays Jean, Raymond’s long-suffering wife, who had no problem with his dalliances—until he actually picks up and leaves. Imogen Poots is memorable as Debbie, Raymond’s daughter and the reason he became reclusive after her death from a drug overdose in 1992.

Winterbottom captures the essence of the ’60s and ’70s just fine, and Coogan is rather enjoyable as Raymond. Perhaps that’s one of the problems with the film: It seems like Raymond must’ve been a much lousier person than this film portrays him to be.

The Look of Love is a good-looking movie with great acting performances, but it just scratches the surface.

The film is available on demand and online via sources, including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing