Friday, March 6, 2020

'Onward' barely moves upward; 'Greed' never really pays dividends

Marvel/Disney action stalwarts Tom "Spider-Man" Holland and Chris "Guardians of the Galaxy" Pratt voice brothers in "Onward," the latest animated feature from the geniuses at Pixar and certainly not one of their creative best.

Pratt's Barley (left) and Holland's Ian take departed dad for a long ride.
Still, it slowly becomes a serviceable adventure, leaning very heavily on magic, which the film reminds us about 10 times during some early narration. From there, you might recognize it as a mix of "Harry Potter" types looking to repeat some "Frozen"-like, box-office wizardry of their own, if mostly for boys and without all the girly-girl music.

Truth be told, any distaff fireworks come from widowed mom Laurel Lighfoot (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and a newfound pal, the mythical manticore now running a local, Fantasyland dive and properly vocalized by Octavia Spencer.

Of course, it's the teen-age Lightfoot siblings, Ian (Holland) and Barley (Pratt), dominating the show. They're actually a couple of elves taking off on a rather bizarre road trip that keeps them looking for the top half of their dead father's body.

Huh? Yes, ya really gotta see it to understand, but just-turned 16-year-old Ian never knew dear ol' Dad, older bro Barley barely remembers him and, perhaps not so ironically, their mom is now dating a cop (Mel Rodriguez), who doubles as a centaur with an exceptionally big bottom to boot.

Too many other odd creatures to count also show up throughout the mish-mash directed and co-written by Dan Scanlon ("Monsters University"), but another warm Pixar ending finds a way to pardon its assorted sins.

Rated "PG": action/peril and some mild thematic elements; 1:42; $ $ $ out of $5

Also opening today is the satirical "Greed," a dark take on a rich man (ever-reliable Steve Coogan) who loses his way early on, thanks to a surly disposition and doting mother (Shirley Henderson).

Coogan is the wealthy fool, but certainly no hero in the farcical "Greed."
The British production comes from Michael Winterbottom, whose various hits (including "The Trip," "Tristram Shanty," and "Welcome to Sarajevo") have been sprinkled throughout a long career. Here, though, the writer/director risks losing us all very quickly with an almost inconceivable number of leaps in time during the film's first 15 minutes alone.

The story of  the immensely unlikable Sir Richard "Greedy" McCreadie (Coogan) starts with his handing out sizable bonuses to a few connected employees of his monolithic fashion company, then literally jumps to "5 days earlier" in Greece, where his lavish 60th birthday party is in the works.

That brief interlude runs into a "3 months earlier" cue and the beginning of what will become the mogul's recurring -- and always dull-- appearance at a parliamentary subcommittee investigating his shady business practices. Add the other unkindly events screen-splashed before us in "1973" (extremely creepy school days), "1977" (London's rag district), and "1990" (a Sri Lanka sweatshop), and it too quickly becomes a hammering onslaught of how slime turns into wealth.

Thank goodness for McCreadie's often bewildered biographer (David Mitchell), his dimwitted daughter (Sophie Cookson) with her scripted reality show, and some particularly funny bits involving a few celeb lookalikes hired to appear at the aforementioned birthday bash. Otherwise, we might truly get suffocated by "Greed."

Rated "R": perversive language and brief drug use; 1:44; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

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