January is a dumping ground for films studios have no confidence in. As they roll out their Oscar hopefuls to more and more screens, they have a certain number of screens to fill while the concentrate their efforts on getting “Atonement” and “No Country for Old Men” as many Oscar nods as possible. They release films like “One Last Call”, “Rambo” and “Mad Money” hoping to ilk a few dollars out of unsuspecting movie goers. While I can’t subject myself to films like “One Last Call” or “Rambo”, I had a faint hope the combination of Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Callie Khouri might yield an unexpected surprise.
“Mad Money”, the new film from first time director Callie Khouri (writer of “Thelma and Louise”) is being released in January. Nuff said. That studio managed to get a portion of the $8.75 I spent to see this film at a matinee. That is $8.75 and 100 minutes I will never get back.
Let’s start with the worst and work our way up to the ‘best’. In the case of “Mad Money”, the best is like getting poked with a rusty nail twice and you only get tetanus once.
Katie Holmes plays Jackie Truman, a young woman who works at the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City. She spends every day moving carts of old money from one floor to the next. This might sound like a mind numbingly boring job, and it is, but Jackie spends every moment with her walkman headphones on and is happy to bop to the music playing in her head as she completes this boring job.
Jackie isn’t too smart and her husband, Bob (Adam Rottenberg) works at a meatpacking plant. They live in a trailer, but they are in love. This seems to be Khouri and screenwriter Glenn Gers attempt to show how three very different women can become involved in the same crime. Jackie and Bob represent the dumb, white trash element of society. See, Bob isn’t smart and doesn’t know the meaning of words and doesn’t completely understand everything. Jackie is no better. When they manage to get the headphones off, she has a weird grin on her face, like everything is slowly making sense. Jackie seems designed to be very dumb. But really, this is the worst stereotype of a lower class Caucasian. The cheap white trash jokes abound. When they start to get some payoff from their activities, the first thing Jackie and Bob do is buy a bigger trailer. Har har har. Not funny or very original for that matter. The woman who wrote “Thelma and Louise” thought this was funny and worthy of her time.
When Bridget (Diane Keaton) comes up with her plan, she recruits Nina (Queen Latifah) and they look for another person, eventually settling on Jackie. Once they decide to include her, they immediately assume she is using drugs (a fair assumption as needles fall out of her purse), but Jackie does nothing to dissuade them, finding it comforting they care enough to intervene on her behalf. Huh?
Actually, perhaps Mrs. Cruise isn’t the worst thing about this film. The more I think about it, the more I keep returning to Callie Khouri. Khouri, one of the most respected screenwriters in Hollywood, has waited a long time to direct her first film. And she chooses “Mad Money”? The film isn’t funny enough, smart enough or interesting enough to carry her name. Khouri practically redefined the buddy movie with her first screenplay so why would she deign to work on this film? I understand things are tough in Hollywood, but she should do what many other writer – directors have done. Write a screenplay everyone wants and attach yourself as a director. If they won’t let you direct, don’t sell the screenplay. It’s worked for others. It can work for Khouri. But instead, she chose to direct someone else’s screenplay and the film is little better than a made for cable movie. A made for the Hallmark Channel cable movie.
Bridget (Keaton) is trying to help her husband Don (Ted Danson, so much for the terrific notices he earned for his work on “Damages”) through his unemployment. But one day, she learns Don has put the house up for sale; things are that bad. Bridget decides to get a job and ends up working at the Federal Reserve Bank, cleaning the bathrooms and emptying the garbage. Her boss ( ) goes around trying to intimidate the employees saying things like “I watch everything” and “There has never been a robbery at the Federal Reserve”. Then Bridget gets an idea, but she will need help. She approaches Nina (Latifah), a single mom with two kids, who is initially reluctant, but when she sees the beauty of the plan, she decides to go ahead. Then, they recruit Jackie. After their first job, they realize how easy this is going to be and continue, no one is the wiser until Don walks in on the three women (literally) throwing the money around. Soon, Bob is involved and they recruit one of the guards ( ) who has a crush on Nina. How nice and symmetrical. Everyone has a partner and they are pretty much exactly alike, class, race and intelligence. How sweet.
One of the major problems with “Money” is that Khouri and Gers want it to be a caper film, but it just doesn’t have enough edge. There is never any hint of real danger to this crew of women. And they are painted so broad and artificially it almost seems like we are watching a 1950s sitcom. A bad 1950s sitcom.
Diane Keaton has done some amazing work on film. She has also made some very bad choices. “Mad Money” would have to be classified as the latter. There are a couple of moments, early in the film, when Bridget begins to realize the extent of her money problems, when you think there might be something here. There are some nice observations and some interesting moments as Bridget has to deal with things like paying the maid and dealing with her upper-class friends. But these moments are short-lived. As soon as she starts working at the Federal Reserve, there is never a moment when she appears natural, or human, and we just fail to connect with her character.
Every time Bridget is startled, and this happens frequently, she is trying to rob a bank after all, she begins flapping her heads and moving her head rapidly, much like a chicken with it’s head cut off. This is a trademark Keaton move, and is usually funny at least once. But when she does it repeatedly, it wears thin real fast. Worse, it is supposed to be funny and it just seems tired.
Queen Latifah is, as usual, the best thing in the film. She appears to make an honest effort to make Nina a real person. As she struggles with the idea of participating in Bridget’s plan, she has real concerns about it. A single mother of two, she knows she has to do everything to care for them. She can’t jeopardize their well being for a moment. In fact, she only becomes sold on the plan when it occurs to her she can send her kids to a better school and buy a small house with the money they will steal. I know, twisted logic, but at least she thinks about it and doesn’t run around waving her arms in the air as she does it.
I sort of wish “Mad Money” had been released last year, so I could include it on my Worst of the Year list. As it is, I’ll have to wait a long time before I can include it on my list for 2008. Don’t worry. I’ll remember it. I’ll remember the wasted $8.75 and 100 minutes of my life.