Lionsgate // 2009 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // August 17th, 2010
Love of money is the root of all evil.
It's also the root of many mediocre films.
Writer/director Stephen Milburn Anderson wanted to explore three themes in this film: What money does to people, male cowardice, and why women are attracted to the bad guys. Technically, he does just that, but he does it by sacrificing character development and common sense. Lionsgate now brings Ca$h before the court; the evidence will show that it is at best a marginally entertaining movie, and not worth your hard-earned ca$h.
Stop me if you're heard this one: Crooks fleeing a heist chuck their loot out of the getaway car, where it is found by a likeable but down on his luck guy (Chris Hemsworth, Star Trek (2009), the man who will be Thor). He and his wife (Victoria Profeta) are at the end of their rope, what with being unemployed, and the bank on the verge of foreclosing on their house. So when they suddenly find themselves with $650,000, they go on a spending spree or four.
However, fortune is oh so fickle, and it isn't long before the twin brother of the surviving robber (Sean Bean, National Treasure, plays both) shows up demanding the money. The couple hand over what they haven't spent, roughly $580,000, but that won't satisfy this bad guy. No, he shall not be assuaged until every last cent is returned. So they sell back what they can. That gets them down to about $20,000. No, that is still not sufficient. Every cent must be accounted for, so our villain takes the couple out for a crime spree, having them knock off convenience stores. All the while, tensions mount as the couple learns the true price of Ca$h.
You might have noticed that I didn't mention any character names. Why bother? They're just cardboard cutouts. Just to make references easier, though, the husband is Sam, the wife is Leslie, and the bad guy is Pyke.
Now, the court has no problem with movies reworking plots; Shakespeare did that on several occasions and did all right. However, you've got to bring something new to the table, something to separate your movie from the others, and that's where this movie fails. The most obvious means of differentiation lies in characterization. The movie spends a lot more time developing Pyke than in the couple -- well, he gets more initial screen time, at least -- but we never understand what makes him tick, and that's critical for a movie whose plot rests on a single premise -- that Pyke is so driven to recover every single cent that instead of simply taking the $580,000 that the couple still has, he will do increasingly moronic things, such as kidnapping, assault, and armed robbery. Keep in mind that we're talking about money that he didn't even steal in the first place. Anderson's intent (stated in the commentary track) was that Pyke's ruthlessness is no different than a bank's. One can't help but wonder just how much ca$h Anderson lost in the financial meltdown.
Sam and Leslie are hopelessly generic; it's mentioned that they're both out of work, but I'm not entirely sure we ever find out exactly what they do (though when we first see Sam, he appears to be wearing mechanic's coveralls). Regarding the movie's purported themes, well, let's take a quick look: The stuff about how cash changes people is developed in about as clichéd a fashion as possible. Shopping sprees? Check. Better love life? Check. The bit about women wanting the bad boy is clumsily developed, so much so that when Leslie does throw herself at Pyke, it makes more sense that she's using sex to try and protect her husband, who has just suffered a beating at Pyke's hands. Frankly, it's a bizarre sequence, with Leslie slowly and carefully putting on makeup and a sexy outfit to try to seduce Pyke while Sam is still in the house. If the Pyke-Leslie dynamic is a matter of raw sexual attraction, then Leslie is a tramp and Sam is better off without her. Still, it is impossible to simply view it as a matter of bad boy-itis.
The idea about male cowardice, though, has some promise. Sam, suddenly faced with a hope for a better life, starts preparing for it, looking into a fast-food franchise, for instance. When Pyke shows up, Sam sees that future systematically taken away. Even worse, Pyke makes a point of continually needling and belittling Sam, and when Sam finally does try to stand up, Pyke beats the crap out of him. Finally, Sam does take action. But here's the thing -- too much of this material ends up on the cutting room floor, or perhaps never got filmed in the first place. This is the stuff that reveals Sam's character; when we're denied that, Sam becomes little more than a cardboard cutout. It's a shame, because better development of just this one idea would have made the movie so much better.
Acting is unmemorable. Sean Bean is phoning it in, though Sean Bean phoning it in can still be pretty intimidating. This was Chris Hemsworth's first film role -- he got the part only a few weeks after arriving from Australia. You can sense some talent in a few scenes, but he isn't given much to work with. Victoria Profeta is out of her league next to her co-stars, and the cardboard development doesn't help. Really, the acting isn't so much a problem as the direction; Anderson does nothing to generate, relying on the actors' ability to emote through stale, repetitive dialogue.
Technically, the disc is pretty good. Video is problematic; the movie was shot in digital high-def, and while the picture quality is good, the filming and lighting often aren't, resulting in washed out colors or odd skin tones. Audio makes good use of all the surround channels and is clear.
The extras are almost better than the film itself; sadly, you have to watch the film first before they make any sense. The commentary track with Anderson covers a lot of ground; even though he's flying solo on the commentary, he's very outgoing, and is very upfront about what he's trying to accomplish. The making-of featurette is superficial; the deleted/expanded scenes are interesting, but it would be nice to know why the deleted scenes were cut -- in particular, there's a deleted scene with Sam and Leslie after Sam has received a brutal beating -- the scene is little more than a slow burn from Hemsworth, but it's a good slow burn that would have marked a critical step in Sam's decision to turn the tables on Pyke.
Weak writing and marginal performances can only take Ca$h so far. When you combine it with clumsy direction, the end result is an overly plotted film that never quite makes us care for the leads.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted/Extended Scenes