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Greed review: Rich with jokes but still misses the mark

Steve Coogan gives it socks in Michael Winterbottom’s frenetic satire on the antics of the super wealthy, says Paul Whitington


Steve Coogan stars as high-street billionaire ‘Greedy’ McCreadie in this broad satire

Steve Coogan stars as high-street billionaire ‘Greedy’ McCreadie in this broad satire

Steve Coogan stars as high-street billionaire ‘Greedy’ McCreadie in this broad satire

Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan have done lots of interesting things together over the years, from their salty take on Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, to their lurid investigation of the 1950s porn industry, The Look of Love, and the thoroughly winning TV travelogue The Trip.

They work well together, and I must say I was looking forward to this latest collaboration, an opulent farce inspired, we are told, by the antics of former BHS boss Philip Green.

He's a character worthy of ridicule: the man who ran BHS into the ground by giving his family huge dividends, has a scrupulously consistent attitude to tax (he doesn't like paying it), has been accused of using Asian sweatshops to bolster profits, and once said of the Guardian's financial editor Paul Murphy, "he can't read English - mind you, he is a f***ing Irishman".

A charming fellow altogether, and to cap it all he has a habit of spending fortunes throwing parties for himself, most memorably in 2002 when he flew 200 guests to Cyprus on a chartered Airbus for a three-day toga party to celebrate his 50th birthday.

It's this incident that inspires Winterbottom's broad satire, which stars Coogan as Sir Richard McCreadie, a high-street billionaire who's about to turn 60. In a brief flashback, we find out how he (like Green) lost his father at 12 and noisily resisted the strict regime at a boarding school to which he was then sent. Eyes ever on the main chance, he became quite the card sharp before leaving school and landing bang in the middle of his ideal habitat - Thatcher's London in the early 1980s, where unscrupulous flash Harrys like him were about to be amply rewarded for their cavalier

McCreadie buys knock-off jeans and sells them at a profit, opens up shops selling recycled clothes and eventually hits the big time, running a chain of high-street stores stocked by sweat shops in Sri Lanka. He buys profitable companies, guts them and moves on, cheerfully leaving chaos in his wake, and takes the head off anyone who crosses him.

Actual friends, then, are thin on the ground when Sir Richard announces his birthday bash on the idyllic Greek island of Mykonos. Instead, invites go out to the kind of socialites and celebrities who'll guarantee the event makes the gossip pages, and meanwhile McCreadie is pulling out the stops, ordering the construction of a fake Roman arena complete with a tame lion for 'gladiators' to fight. That lion may not be as tame as he thinks, and neither is his family.

'Greedy' McCreadie is currently knocking about with a sycophantic woman half his age, but seems more interested in his ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fisher), a classy dame who wears her extreme wealth well. McCreadie's histrionic daughter (Sophie Cookson) is on the island filming a dodgy reality show, and his son (Asa Butterfield) seems to hate him. The scene is set for an epically disastrous birthday bash.

Sporting a tacky tan, open-necked shirt and hideous, glow-in-the-dark teeth, Steve Coogan gives it socks as Greedy McCreadie, and raises some genuine laughs early on as he insults all and sundry. Perhaps as a barb to Mr Green, Winterbottom has given McCreadie Irish heritage, and Shirley Henderson is wonderful as his salty, knowing, ever indulgent Ulster mum.

But we're not given enough of her, and rather too much of everything else. Insufficient attention is paid to the reality TV show subplot, which seems tacked on, and surplus to requirements.

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McCreadie's talent for excess is mirrored in the screenplay, which moves giddily around the billionaire's flashy villa and tries so many jokes that some are bound to fail.

David Mitchell's Nick is the supposed soul of the film, McCreadie's hangdog biographer whose enthusiasm for his task is waning by the second. His interest in the mogul's harried Sri Lankan assistant (Sarah Solemani) is the premise for an account of the dreadful factories where McCreadie's clothes are mass-produced in dire conditions.

But this worthy topic is brushed over too: and in trying to hit so many targets, Greed misses them all. It's fun for a while, though, especially early on when Coogan's McCreadie grandly puffs out his feathers.

Also releasing this week:

The Call of the Wild

(PG, 100 mins)

This rather antiseptic adaptation of Jack London’s adventure novel follows the exploits of Buck, a 140-pound St Bernard mongrel who is stolen from his indulgent Californian owner and shipped north to the Yukon, where the Klondike Gold Rush is in full swing. After enduring a spell delivering the mail along the Yukon Trail, Buck is taken in by a wily outdoorsman called John Thornton (Harrison Ford). But the further away he gets from civilisation, the more Buck feels the call of the wild. The darker aspects of London’s tale have been excised in this rather Disneyfied version, and the CGI dogs are faintly sick-making.

End of the Century

(No Cert, IFI, 84 mins)

Lucio Castro’s dream-like, poetic debut feature is set in Barcelona, where Argentinian poet Ocho (Juan Barberini) has come to unwind, perhaps to lick his wounds. He’s at a crossroads in his life, having recently separated from his long-term partner, and is on a city beach one afternoon when he spots a handsome young man called Javi (Ramon Pujol). A casual romance ensues, but Ocho is rocked to his core when Javi tells him they’ve met before, many years ago. Is he right? It’s never entirely clear, but Castro’s film plays cleverly with this evocative theme. Sometimes memories are all we’ve got, but can they be trusted?

Like a Boss

(16, 83 mins)

A terrible crassness has overtaken Hollywood comedies over the past decade or so: colourful references to sex organs now pass for wit, and even the female characters make dick jokes. Plenty of them in Like a Boss, a truly execrable caper that squanders the comic talents of Rose Byrne, Tiffany Haddish and Salma Hayek. Byrne and Haddish are childhood friends who’ve founded a beauty company together, Hayek an arrogant cosmetics mogul who decides to take it over. Lots goes wrong when she does, but nothing very amusing, and by the 50-minute mark I was praying for the blessed release of the end credits.

Films coming soon ...

Dark Waters (Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp); Downhill (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto); The Invisible Man (Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Oliver Jackson-Cohen); Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Adele Haenel, Noemie Merlant)

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