Mill Creek Entertainment // 1993 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // June 26th, 2011
There were a million reasons to give the money back. But Joey Coyle couldn't think of one.
First things first: I'm a big, big fan of John Cusack. Some might even call me an apologist, seeing as I'm willing to seek out even the actor's off the beaten path movies like True Colors and War, Inc. and, yes, 1993's Money for Nothing. He's a great, unconventional movie star (notice I didn't say actor), equally adept at playing comedy and drama, at being sincere and sarcastic and incapable of giving a performance that doesn't feel intelligent and thoughtful. While not every movie he makes is good -- some are very much the opposite -- I'm always interested in the kinds of scripts he chooses to make. He has an offbeat integrity about his work, which means that when he does make a movie there's always a good reason why. Unless you count Must Love Dogs. And Serendipity. And America's Sweethearts.
Which brings me to Money for Nothing, in which Cusack stars as Joey Coyle, a down-on-his-luck longshoreman in Philadelphia. He still lives at home, he isn't getting work and he's pining for his ex-girlfriend Monica (Debi Mazar, GoodFellas), a banker who moved on long ago. While driving with his friend one day, Joey finds two bags that fell off an armored car containing $1.2 million. Though his friend (the always reliable Michael Rappaport, True Romance) wants no part of it, Joey sees the money as his ticket to the good life. The only problem is that he can't tell anyone he found it and can't spend it, thanks to the investigation of a cop (Michael Madsen, BloodRayne) and a warrant for the arrest of whoever took the money. As Joey turns to the mob to help launder the money, more and more people begin figuring out that he's now rich, making it harder and harder to keep his secret. Then there are the cops, always closing in...
Perhaps the best reason to watch Money for Nothing is to appreciate the impressive cast, many of who had not yet become stars when the movie was made. In addition to Cusack, Mazar, Rappaport and Madsen, there are supporting turns from James Gandolfini (as Coyle's older brother), Benicio Del Toro (as the low-level mob hood who helps him launder the money) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as a skeevy fellow longshoreman). Everyone in the movie is good, and help to create a believable world for Cusack's character to inhabit -- his relationship with each person in the movie is totally believable and authentic. It's too bad, then, that Money for Nothing can't really decide what kind of movie it wants to be. Some scenes play like broad comedy; others, like paranoid thriller -- it's no wonder that the original ad campaign from 1993 was so dishonest, marketing the movie like a wacky laugh riot. Director Ramon Menendez, whose only other major directing credit was Stand and Deliver, does a decent job of building up the tension that's pushing down on Cusack from all sides; trouble is, he never allows us to form any kind of relationship with the Coyle character. Do we like him? Pity him? Are we hoping he gets away with it? Or is it a kind of procedural in which an inept criminal makes a series of mistakes, leading up to his inevitable failure and apprehension? Somehow, Money for Nothing is all of these things and none of them. It keeps us curiously distanced outside the material, observing but never getting emotionally involved.
Of course, the movie glosses over much of the real tragedy of Coyle's "true" story, like the fact that he struggled with drug addiction. The horrible punch line to the whole thing is that the same year that Money For Nothing was released, Coyle took his own life. That information makes it a little difficult to watch the scenes in the movie in which he's turned into some sort of folk hero. He wasn't just some ordinary guy who got in over his head. He was a man tortured by a lot of demons, and the movie glosses over all of that. Guess it doesn't make for escapist entertainment, and that's all Money For Nothing strives to be.
Money for Nothing is part of the giant wave of former Hollywood Pictures titles being released by Mill Creek Entertainment, the appeal of which is that it offers Blu-rays for dirt cheap (their movies can be picked up for around five bucks). The problem with this is that it lowers the standards for the format; once consumers demonstrate that they're willing to overlook things like video quality, incorrect aspect ratios, lossy audio tracks and no special features just to pick up a movie they saw on cable a couple times in the '90s for cheap, the integrity of Blu-ray goes out the window. Maybe that's overstating things, but I'm not sure that it is; we saw the very same thing happen to DVD within just a few years of its existence, and now the bargain-bin Blu-rays are creeping in and muddying the high def waters. Money for Nothing, like several other Mill Creek (and even more so Echo Bridge, which has been mishandling the catalogue titles from Dimension) releases, is presented in the incorrect aspect ratio of an open-matte 1.78:1, even though the film was meant to be shown in 2.35:1 widescreen. This is evidenced by the opening credits, which are presented in the correct aspect ratio before the movie opens up to the wrong one. Now, it's not going to destroy the movie -- the compositions are still largely intact and not a lot of picture information is lost -- but we movie fans got into DVD and, subsequently, Blu-ray in the first place because it was the only way to see movies the way they were intended to be shown. There is simply no reason why even a title like Money for Nothing can't get a respectable treatment and at least be presented in the right aspect ratio. End of rant.
That's not the only problem with the 1080p HD transfer, though. White flecks, scratches and age spots pop up all over the movie, and skin tones are relatively inconsistent -- natural one minute, too pinkish and hot the next. Detail is decent throughout -- shots that appear soft are more the result of the source, I think -- and the image is ok overall, but that, too, is lowering the standard. The movie looks marginally better than a standard def DVD, but even for a bargain price that's not really the reason why we all invested in this new technology. End of second rant.
The 2.0 stereo soundtrack, though lossy, is serviceable; the dialogue is clear and the soundtrack (including a pretty terrible score by Craig Safan) is mixed in well. There is no subtitle or caption option and not a single special feature -- not even the movie's original theatrical trailer, so you can see just how misleading the marketing was.
Money for Nothing falls under the same category as most of the early-'90s Hollywood Pictures catalogue: movies I might stick with for a few minutes if I came across them flipping channels, but not movies which I need to own. Even a John Cusack fanboy such as myself is able to pass this one up.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated R