The success of 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give, which grossed $125 million domestically en route to a worldwide haul of $267 million, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it reminded audiences — and especially casting directors, filmmakers and film executives looking to tap back into the lucrative, upscale boomer market — what they loved about Diane Keaton. On the downside, it spawned wearying mock-entertainment like last year’s Because I Said So and, now, Mad Money.
Directed by Callie Khouri (the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Thelma and Louise), and starring Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes, Mad Money tells the story of three ordinary women who decide to do something extraordinary — rob the Federal Reserve Bank. White-collar Kansas City suburbanites Bridget and Don Cardigan (Keaton and Ted Danson) have racked up an immense debt ever since he lost his job as a consultant, or whatever it is rich, white-haired dudes do, so Bridget — heretofore blind to the financial particulars of the household — gets a job as a janitor at the Fed, where old money is shredded, in order to avoid foreclosure on her home.
There she meets Nina Brewster (Latifah), a single mother of two boys, and Jackie Truman (Holmes), a flighty, gum-chewing… idiot? I don’t know — Jackie’s defining characteristic seems to be the fact that she likes to wear headphones, lots of flair, and daaaaaance to the music. At any rate, money at the Fed is destroyed through a labyrinthine process, but Bridget figures out that using a store-bought padlock and some well-planned timing, there’s a way to “liberate” old bills about to be destroyed, and smuggle them out with the trash. Working to outsmart their haughty, uptight supervisor, Mr. Glover (Stephen Root, of Office Space), so begins a slow-bleed robbery, with each of the women’s men (Don, plus Jackie’s boyfriend and Nina’s new crush, a shy guard at the building) eventually getting in on the action.
Mad Money is a sort of deranged cocktail of Set It Off, Fun with Dick and Jane and The First Wives Club, if only the worst parts of those films were stitched together, around some loosely defined, femme-centric, Up with People! idea. The movie doesn’t really ever take the specifics of its plotting very seriously, not to mention the fact that Bridget’s utter naivete at her family’s dire straits renders her later criminal masterminding more than a bit unbelievable. No, Mad Money is instead more concerned with merely taking contrasting comedic styles and rubbing them up against one another, willy-nilly. An ill-conceived framing device only makes things worse, more tedious.
Tone is a big problem here. Latifah’s demeanor is more or less understated and — apart from the
wincing harping on her seven-year sexless streak, which comes off as an
unintentional commentary on race, big-boned girls, or both, since she’s
by far the closest thing to a real gal on screen — she nominally roots
the movie in something approaching a tangible carbon copy of reality. All gassy, wide-eyed, kewpie doll confusion, though, Holmes just offers up a wince-inducing catalogue of ditzy mannerisms, which makes the fact that Jackie suddenly becomes a MacGyver-esque bomb expert in a third act sequence all the more baffling. Then there’s Keaton’s wheel-spinning shtick, an appropriation of wildly pantomimed signposts of emotional constipation and sped-up Jeff Goldblum-esque verbal detours. “Improvisation,”
as it were, was clearly encouraged during the film’s making, but what
it mostly results in are all the characters merely talking over one another
in wound-up, oh-no-you-didn’t style. This gets old — fast.
From frame one, Glover, too, is presented as strangely antagonistic, even if his oft-repeated admonition of watchful warning (“Everyone, everywhere, every minute…”) doesn’t really make much sense. Surprisingly, though, the movie doesn’t really satisfyingly coalesce around him as a villain, which could have given the proceedings a nice little 9 to 5-type kick. Alas, it’s too busy trying to somehow argue that its protagonists have been squeezed out of the American dream, despite all evidence to the contrary. I know what you’re thinking, though: Does the movie have a scene in which its characters dance, and roll
around on a bed in piles of money after having thrown them up into the
air in celebratory fashion? You bet your sweet ass it does. If that and that alone makes you cackle in delight, no words from me can save you from this, or dissuade you from thinking it’s deliriously witty.
Housed in a slightly-thinner-than-normal fold-out case, Mad Money comes with a solid video transfer and choice of two video presentations — cropped full-frame or 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, which preserves the aspect ratio of its original theatrical presentation. There are also English language Dolby digital 5.1 and 2.0 surround sound audio tracks. Apart from the theatrical trailer and previews for other Anchor Bay releases, there are two other supplemental bonus features — a feature-length audio commentary track from director Khouri, in which she ladles praise on the cast and mentions
that the movie has its roots in a true, albeit dramatically altered, British story; and a nine-minute behind-the-scenes featurette peppered with interviews with cast and crew. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. D (Movie) C+ (Disc)