Michael J. Fox plays Daniel McTeague, a nephew of Uncle Joe (Kirk Douglas), who is drafted in by his greedy family to pressure their rich uncle into giving them all a fair share of his earnings when he finally departs for the skies above. To their horror, their aging uncle has become very good friends with the young and beautiful Molly (Olivia d’Abo) and they soon suspect that any possible inheritance might not be coming their way.
This wonderful little comedy from director Jonathan Lynn prospers from some terrific character acting by the supporting cast, but is however let down by a largely bland turn from Fox and a weak middle section. Although Fox is on autopilot, at times he still shows the flashes of sparky-brilliance we’ve come to know and love, making this film just as own-worthy as many of his other titles.
Lynn knows what to do with the camera – set it up in front of the actors and let them act. This may sound obvious but, like in all his films, Lynn manages to capture those magic comic moments while not letting the camera interfere with the onscreen goings-on. He knows, especially with the likes of Phil Hartman in the cast, the comedy is to be found in the performances and the script, and an element of restraint on his part, something he has managed to do extremely well in all his movies, is so important to the film’s eventual feel and quality. The good news for the director in this case is that he has an excellent comedic script to work with, and where it lacks an emotional dynamic and an eventual sluggish area in the middle, it more than makes it for it with its comedy and all round ‘fun’ tone.
As mentioned, the film’s most pleasing aspect is its supporting cast who make the first fifteen minutes so excruciatingly hilarious it becomes too hard for them to match it later on. When I first saw the movie I called the opening the ‘funniest I have ever seen’, but I have calmed down since then, however there is no doubting its opening deserves to be up there with the best of them. Ed Begley, Jr begins proceedings with some bitingly funny sarcastic remarks as his kids complain that they don’t want to see their uncle, and although his character takes a backseat as the film goes on, his dry sarcasm still adds to the laughs every so often. Bob Balaban is also excellent, delivering his lines with a jittery un-assurance and looking like his authoritative wife (Colleen Camp), who is certainly wearing the trousers in this particular relationship, has taken her toll on his sanity. The late Phil Hartman is, unsurprisingly, the standout, taking his ‘desperate father’ to new levels of backside-kissing using his kids, his family members and anything else he can think of to get the money. Hartman effortlessly goes from calm and relaxed to over-the-top, over bearing madness, seemingly at the flick of a switch. He uses the quick change from straight-faced dry wit, to scorching physical humour superbly and steals practically all the scenes he’s in.
So what’s wrong with the movie? Well, the leads are pretty bland with neither Olivia d’Abo or Nancy Travis as Daniel McTeague’s girlfriend, setting the celluloid alight. This is partly due to the script not offering much in the way of depth to either of their characters, but there certainly could have been improvement, in that both actors should have brought more out of their respective roles. Kirk Douglas is acceptable as Uncle Joe McTeague, but past the fact that he’s in a wheelchair, I struggled to locate an emotional core making him less of a likeable character, and certainly not as likeable as he needs to be. And then we come to the lead, Michael J. Fox who is perfectly suitable for the role of the caring niece who doesn’t have the ‘greedy’ tendencies the rest of the family suffer from. Fox at times is at his relaxed best, but I believe suffers from the slow middle section where the script struggles to maintain the themes of ‘greed’ and how ‘greed’ can affect people who might have initially had good intentions. Like Douglas, because the script is relatively weak in terms of the way it handles its themes, Fox’s character becomes unlikable. Both characters become lost in what lengths they would go to, to get what they want and while this appears like a good way to tackle such a subject (to what lengths do people go to when ‘greed’ is playing a part?), it doesn’t work in this comedy. It slows the second act, and when the finale comes it has the distinct smell of a Hollywood glossed ending. In tying everything up, all smiles and happy people, we’re left wondering what happened to those ‘greedy’ halfwits we were witnessing delving below the belt, just minutes before.
Overall, this is a very funny, enjoyable film and although on repeat viewings you start to see the cracks in its silver lining, there are always the several stand-out moments that beg to be re-watched again and again.
Technically the disc is excellent but it lacks any notable extras.
The picture is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. Seen as the film was made in 1994 you wouldn’t expect anything less that very good, but this disc goes one further with an excellent, pristine image that is sharp and clear, and lacks any noticeable edge enhancement, artefacting or print damage. Colours are natural, and shadow detail is well defined.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also very good. Dialogue is clear, and is supported by good use of the surrounds. While most of the sound is centrally located across the front speakers, the rear speakers do a decent job, mainly used for ambient sounds and music.
Production Notes - An informative set of production notes delves into the concept of the movie and looks at individual characters. There are contributions from the principle cast, writer and director.
Cast and Crew Biographies - moderately informative biographies of Michael J. Fox; Kirk Douglas; Nancy Travis; Olivia d’Abo; Phil Hartman; Ed Begley, Jr; Colleen Camp; and director Jonathan Lynn.
Theatrical Trailer - An amusing trailer that contains some scenes that do not feature in the film.
Universal Web links - a link to Universal’s web page.
An enjoyable and fun comedy is presented on a technically good disc but unfortunately it lacks any worthwhile extras. Its flaws are easily forgivable as it almost certainly guarantees a smile on every single viewing. This is certainly one for feel-good fans, as well as fans of Michael J. Fox and director Jonathan Lynn.