Mad Money (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Mad Money is a comedy caper where the caper's not interesting and the comedy's not funny. Take away those elements and all that's left is a tepid female buddy movie and, like its male counterparts, we've had enough of those to choke a critic. It's hard to get excited about a movie that takes so long to do so little and what it does, it doesn't do all that well. No only is Mad Money sloppily written but the structure is so mind-bogglingly idiotic that one has to wonder why anyone would sit through the entire movie. This is another example of filmmakers being "clever" by starting at the end then going back to the beginning.

The story is about three women who rob the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank and get caught. We know they get caught because that's where the movie starts off. So any chance of tension immediately goes out the window. In addition, we have to suffer through 90 minutes of backstory before we finally get back to where we were when we came in. By employing this overused framing structure, Mad Money hamstrings itself. The only time it makes sense to tell a tale this way is if there's some kind of misdirection or sleight of hand coming, but there's nothing like that going on here. The plot is as generic as it gets.

One day, Bridget and Don Cardigan (Diane Keaton and Ted Danson) are on top of the world in their "Keeping up with the Joneses" neighborhood until the unthinkable happens: Don gets downsized and Bridget has to take a job as a janitor at the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. What will the Lexus-driving, Abercrombie-wearing couple next door think? So, Bridget begins to want. Seeing all the old, worn-out money being shredded gives her heart palpitations - why not find a way to liberate a little of that money from its fate and take it home with her? No one will be the wiser; after all, it no longer officially exists. So, after a stroll down an aisle in Home Depot (where all great criminals go to ruminate), she figures out a foolproof plan to rob the bank, but she needs accomplices. So she approaches shredder Nina (Queen Latifa) and "cart girl" Jackie (Katie Holmes) and seduces them into a life of villainy. The first theft goes so easily that they decide to do it again and again and again… And, as often is the case, they don't know when to quit, as we learn during the opening scene. Crime can pay, but only when you're not greedy or stupid about it.

As I mentioned above, there is a little nice female bonding going on, although it might have been better had Queen Latifa cloned herself twice so she could interact with herself (an experience that would have been more rewarding than what we get). Diane Keaton has become like the female version of Jack Nicholson - she always plays herself. It's getting a little boring. And Katie Holmes comes across as an immature actress trying desperately to be taken seriously. Holmes' movie career has been spotty at best and she hasn't done anything noteworthy since 2003. Her work here indicates her best role might be to stay off the screen and play wife and mother. But at least there's the Queen who exudes class in a movie that badly needs it. And her romance with Barry (Roger Cross, best known as "Curtis" from 24 before Jack offed him) is nicely underplayed.

Credibility is a significant problem with Mad Money. Caper movies don't have to be rigorously believable - in fact, some of the best are outrageous - but they shouldn't have viewers shaking their heads at the silliness of the plan. No matter how incompetent the Federal Government might be, you're never going to get me to believe that three women will be able to steal millions of dollars from a secure installation by exchanging one special Master lock padlock for an identical-looking model purchased at a store. A little more invention, please! If we're going to spend time watching a movie, at least provide something that's not insulting to the intelligence.

Considering director Callie Khouri's resume, it's not surprising she gets the female bonding portion of the equation correct (she wrote Thelma and Louise and wrote/directed Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood). Although the script is not strictly speaking her mess (it's actually a re-make of a 2001 British TV movie that was played straight), she can't be absolved from its failings. Mad Money isn't a terrible movie in the traditional sense (I did not want to run screaming from the theater), but I can't recommend it except as a way to fall asleep on the couch at night. It's that kind of film - hard to actively hate but not worth the time or money necessary to come to that conclusion. This is the first weekend in a while when there's a lot of new stuff opening at the box office. It shouldn't be hard to find something more appealing than this.

Mad Money (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2008-01-18
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1