Sterling // 1998 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // December 10th, 1999
Is ANYTHING worth crossing the Swede?
Marlon Brando essentially improvs his way through this wacky, weird, dark, unpredictable film. Garish, often cartoonish colors and odd camera angles add to the strange feeling this movie brings. Charlie Sheen and Thomas Haden Church put in performances unlike anything we're used to.
Everything seems safe and normal enough as I open the case. I see a film with Marlon Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, The Godfather), backed up by Charles (yes Charles, not Charlie) Sheen (The Arrival, Platoon, Major League), Thomas Haden Church (George of the Jungle, TV's Wings), and Donald Sutherland (The Dirty Dozen, M*A*S*H, Virus). Also starring Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite, Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, The Replacement Killers). The disc sits inside an Amaray Keep Case and the packaging shows it is loaded with yummy extras. All is well for a DVD reviewer, right? I'm all set for a nice comedy with proven stars, popcorn at the ready.
The above was the journal of the reviewer recovered later. He's receiving care and we have high hopes for his return to normalcy, and we'll have him review something formulaic as a step toward full recovery. Because, brother, formulaic this ain't.
As Free Money begins, we see a couple cute but strange looking twins telling their father they are pregnant. Marlon Brando jumps with the news, and looks like an overgrown walrus more than a man. He is the Swede, by God, and he is going to fix those guys who had the audacity to take advantage of his daughters. Those guys are Charlie Sheen playing Bud, and Thomas Haden Church playing Larry, two nobodies in this forgotten area of North Dakota. Only one of the twins is really pregnant, but they both claim to be so they can get married together. The girls manage to convince the Swede that they really love these boys, and so they escape gruesome death by a hair. Instead they all get married. Very quickly we see things aren't quite right. The color schemes are strange. One shot will show everyone wearing a shade of green matching the walls, grass, or whatever is nearby. The next shot will be blues, all matching. Maybe some garish yellow accent to break the field of blue or green. Sheen looks nerdy rather than the handsome, intense actor we usually see. Church has his hair dyed some sort of blonde with green overtones. At any rate, the girls quickly tire of living under the conditions these two men live in, and decide all of them are moving back home. Home is nice for them, since the Swede runs the whole town and is the local prison warden. Home is not so nice for Bud and Larry, who quickly become slave labor around the house, and are told they can have "conjugal visits" with their wives once a month. One of the funnier scenes in the movie involve a cattle prod being used as punishment for sleeping with their wives on a non-designated day.
Things aren't going much better at the prison and the town. Donald Sutherland plays Judge Rolf Rausenberger, who has blood on his own hands and is owned by the Swede. The two cooperate on letting a prisoner escape and shoot him in the woods. Mira Sorvino is called out to investigate, as Agent Karen Polarski. It turns out she also happens to be the judge's daughter, but has taken her mother's maiden name.
Now for the main thrust of Free Money, if you can say this film has a main thrust. Bud and Larry are understandably upset at their new lot in life, when they find out an annual money train passing worn out currency from Canada to the US is coming through soon, and the people handling the shipment are even bigger losers than they are. I'm not going to give away any more of the plot, but it involves using the Swede's prize pickup truck and some severe ramifications of the sons-in-laws actions.
This film, though it does have a plot, actually more than one plot, moves around from place to place and with people getting stranger and stranger. I only learned later from the commentary track that this whole film was basically Brando improv-ing his way through, trying dozens of different things, often changing the whole scene and plot in the process. The screenplay changed day to day, sometimes drastically. I have to wonder whether the director was really directing at all, it sounds like Brando just ran over him and did whatever he wanted. The humor, such as it is, is often very dark. I was surprised to learn that the director, Yves Simoneau (Mother's Boys, Perfectly Normal, Les Celebrations) was actually Canadian, since this movie seemed much more like a foreign film. This is the first time I'd have to call a Canadian film foreign. Maybe Quebec is really a different country after all; in fact most of the cast and crew have French names. Despite all that I have to say I liked this film. I really have to say that, because I'm afraid the Swede will come after me if I say I don't.
Now for the disc. As our first reviewer started to say, it's a very nice DVD. The video is a non-anamorphic transfer in 1.85:1 format. The picture is crisp, with bright, but not oversaturated colors and no bleeding, artifacts, or film noise. The sound is even better, a 5.1 Dolby Digital track. Envelopment was right there, and it gives your surrounds and subwoofer quite a bit to do. And did my unfortunate predecessor mention extras? This Sterling Millennium series gives you plenty. The interactive menus contains 24 full-motion chapter stops in the 91 minute film. Of course you get bios and filmographies, and the trailer for the movie, along with trailers for Legionnaire, Progeny, Space Trucking, A Murder of Crows, The Confession, and Urban Menace. There is a photo gallery from the film and a cute trivia game, and of course the aforementioned commentary track with the director and writer. If I had a DVD-ROM I could also access the screenplay, print it out, and access scenes directly from the script. This list of extras is one of the big reasons I made the move to DVD from VHS.
Probably the biggest complaint with this DVD is the lack of anamorphic enhancement. Free Money isn't a film for everyone either. To many it will seem too weird, and will have some scrambling for the tint and color controls on their televisions. It's not your television, Brando and company have taken over your set for the next 90 minutes.
If you like avant-garde or foreign films this is right up your alley. For Brando fans I think you have to give it a try as well. For the rest of you, I'd definitely rent it first and see if it's your cup of tea. I also have the feeling that a second viewing will give you a better understanding than the first. There is some violence and the humor is dark. So, don't say I didn't warn you.
The film and the disc are both acquitted, without a doubt. I just hope the director doesn't do a Pauly Shore movie and let him run everything the way Brando did; I don't think the results would be pretty. Sterling is given a stern warning to commence with anamorphic transfers in the future, but commended for using the Amaray Keep Case.
Review content copyright © 1999 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Interactive Menus
* Biographies and Filmographies
* Photo Gallery
* Trivia Game
* Theatrical Trailer
* Trailers for Millennium Series DVDs