Mark Reviews Movies

MAD MONEY

1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Callie Khouri

Cast: Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes, Ted Danson, Roger Cross, Adam Rothenberg

MPAA Rating:  (for sexual material and language, and brief drug references)

Running Time: 1:44

Release Date: 1/18/08


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Review by Mark Dujsik

It seems odd that the Federal Reserve System would not keep any record (you know, serial numbers or something) of the money it destroys, but I can take it for granted in Mad Money that it's an oversight based the egos of certain people who think they've created a foolproof security system (and, as we know, anyone who thinks they've created a foolproof anything—especially a security system that uses retail locks—is probably a fool oneself). What's unnecessarily confusing about the movie—and the reason I call into question the system of which our heroines take advantage—is that it can't decide whether or not there is a loophole in the system.

Are these really untraceable bills they steal, and if they are, how does the local police department figure they have a case against the culprits? The whole movie is based on the question of whether or not the robbers will get away with their crime, and when it's set up straight away that they can, there's no tension to the question. That the movie can't decide if it wants them to get away with it is even more irritating, but that's probably because I didn't care either way.

The story begins at the end, with Bridget (Diane Keaton) and her husband Don (Ted Danson) flushing loads of money down the toilet, Nina (Queen Latifah) burning bills in the grill, and Jackie (Katie Holmes) and some dude, who's forgotten about until halfway through the movie when we discover he's actually Jackie's husband Bob (Adam Rothenberg), rigging their trailer full of cash with a Rube Golderg device. Suddenly, they're all arrested (except for Bridget, who makes a run for it) and detailing how they ended up with the money in an interrogation room.

Months and months ago, Bridget discovers Don was selling their house after being laid off at work. Don tells her they're over $200,000 in debt, so Bridget decides it's time to get a job. The job market is rough on women her age (suing one company that blatantly tells her she's too old for the job certainly could have been a possible way for income), but she finds a job at the Federal Reserve Bank as a janitor. Comparing the work to "Third-World slave labor" doesn't win the rich woman who's upset she can't live in excessive luxury anymore any sympathy points, but the job does allow her to find a problem in the bank's security system.

Apparently, it is incredibly, ridiculously, almost lazily easy to steal from The Fed. Buy a padlock at a local hardware store, switch it from the bank's original lock, get the ditzy, dancing woman who pushes the cart downstairs (Jackie) to throw some of the money in the garbage, have the woman who shreds the money (Nina) switch the lock back, and then have the janitor grab the money out of the can. Then the three thieves can hide in a bathroom stall and talk really loudly about what they've just down while shoving stacks of bills into their underwear. If they happen to talk about their plan in public, where the local waiter overhears it, or over cell phones while they know the police are surveilling their every move, all the better.

After the fact, of course, each is sure to spend the money on buying her house back, putting her kids in an elite prep school, and buying her suddenly-appeared husband a motorcycle. How these three aren't caught before their plan is even past the initial planning stage is fishy, and the fact that they manage to continue it for six months while exercising incredibly poor judgment about spending lots of money on a menial budget is downright unbelievable.

After all this reckless spending, Nina tells them they can't spend the money or they'll be caught, which is advice she should have applied before putting her sons in an elite prep school, but it lets screenwriter Glen Gers show how Bridget's greed contrasts Nina's common sense while completely ignoring everything he's written before it. Plus, it's supposed to be a comedy, but it's one that mopes its way through the planning and the execution of the robbery. There's a kick of energy once they have the money, and Don discovers it almost immediately.

There are some amusing scenes with them recklessly using the money, but then it goes straight back to the continuing heist, complete with a security guard (Roger Cross) who finds out but likes Nina too much to rat, an egotistical head of security (a wasted Stephen Root) who sees everything but what's happening under his nose, and people watching the ladies' every move. The characters have basic traits that should keep us from wanting them to go to prison (except for Bridget, who's just a spoiled WASP), and Gers solves the whole thing by having a lawyer walk into a room, again forgetting what he wrote before that (primarily, that all the characters have already spilled the beans in detail to the cops).

Gers' script is pretty lazy, especially under the microscope of Callie Khouri's lackadaisical direction, which is emphasized even more by the fine-enough performances from the three leads. The ending of Mad Money goes back and forth about letting them get away and getting caught until it almost goes beyond not caring either way to only caring when the whole thing will end.

Copyright © 2008 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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