Judge Katie Herrell thinks Diane Keaton should have heeded old boyfriend Woody Allen's advice to just take the money and run.
Our review of Mad Money (Blu-Ray), published November 5th, 2008, is also available.
They're having the crime of their lives…
Mad Money struggles from an identity crisis. Is it a star vehicle for Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, and Katie Homes? Or is it a comedic crime film about real-life people forced to steal based on unfortunate economic circumstance? Unfortunately, the film doesn't commit to either path, resulting in a mildly enjoyable yet not wholly engaging film.
Facts of the Case
Bridget Cardigan (Keaton), Jackie Truman (Holmes), and Nina Brewster (Queen Latifah) are manual laborers toiling away at the Federal Reserve. Cardigan, a fallen upper-middle-class socialite now working as a janitor, cooks up a plan to steal dirty dollars about to be shredded. She ensnares her two coworkers to carry out the plan—a plan that works flawlessly until it doesn't.
The movie opens with what appear to be jail-house interviews, although all of the players are wearing street clothes, so it is immediately obvious they are not high-security risks. The interviews consist of revealing, yet adoring remarks about ring-leader Cardigan's plan and appear as if they are good-naturedly ratting her out. These interviews will appear throughout the movie providing snippets of back-story or unexplored character traits. They are usually irrelevant to the plot yet offer a bit of an anchor to a timeframe and story line that jumps from place to place.
Soon the movie reverts to three years earlier. Here we meet the well-coifed Cardigan and learn that her picture-perfect life has crumbled since her husband lost his job and, unbeknownst to Cardigan, slipped into immense debt. Cardigan's naivete at her family's dire straits makes her later mastermind burglar role a bit unbelievable. In a very short timeframe Cardigan goes from being completely unaware of anything but luncheons to pulling of a heist of federal proportions. Cardigan's character isn't shown to evolve enough during this film to make that jump believable. Although Cardigan's wardrobe shifts from pleats to coveralls, her demeanor as a perky housewife carries throughout the film, even as she's scrubbing toilets and robbing the government.
It is in the Federal Reserve building that the film's identity is acutely called into question. Punctuated amongst the high-octane presence of the three leading ladies is a cast of characters seemingly straight out of The Office or Office Space. These drab-looking pencil or trash pushers embody a working atmosphere that is both acutely boring and highly regulated/important giving the building, and people, a little bit of buzz.
The uptight supervisor, Glover, is played by Stephen Root (Milton from Office Space). His performance as a stone faced supervisor who prides himself on seeing and knowing everything is the way this movie should have gone. It should have harnessed and exploited some of the irony that pervades this film. It should have been about the ironic seriousness that pervades, what is in essence, taking out the trash. It should have been about the low-level workers banding together to beat "The Man," or in this case "The Fed." It should have been darker and grittier and funnier.
Instead the presence of Keaton, Holmes, and Latifah brought this film a sunny disposition where none was needed. It brought the tabloids into the Federal Building and it became hard to imagine that these three women were desperate for cash. Latifah's performance as a single-mother raising two boys on the salary of a dollar bill shredder is believable, as both her appearance and demeanor were understated. But surrounded by the boisterous Keaton and Holmes, who played a free-spirited, karma-dependent hippie, and Ted Danson (Mr. Cardigan), who looked and acted terribly tanned and Cloroxed, Latifah looked more like she missed the makeup call than she'd found a film to showcase her range as an actor.
In the Special Feature commentary by Director Callie Khouri, it is revealed that this movie has its roots in a true British story but that the director and company, in the five years it took to get this film made, altered that original story dramatically. With the mention of Britain and true story I saw the way this movie could have, should have been. It should have stuck closer to the original "script" and become less Hollywood.
The only Hollywood embellishment I enjoyed about this film was the soundtrack—although I admired a scene transition technique of one scene folding over onto another and the big-budget mobile home explosion tipped off by some string and a wind up toy. The opening songs were orchestral and flighty, with an undercurrent of urgency and irony, setting off Keaton's character perfectly. Later the youthful Holmes is seeming jamming—not from an iPod mind you—to more classic rock as she dances through her rote tasks.
But the Hollywood mainstays of dancing in piles of money after throwing them graduation hat style into the air and the gratuitous back slapping that defined the Special Feature "Makin' Money: Behind the Scenes of Mad Money" I could have done without.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One thing I admired about director Callie Khouri's commentary was the fact that she wanted to make a crime movie that didn't involve violence. This movie certainly is family friendly, even if it does romanticize the criminal tasks of its main characters a bit.
There's a reason Mad Money wasn't a blockbuster hit. It took a blockbuster cast and gave them an up-by-the-bootstraps story without taking away their silver spoons. But the DVD does offer both a widescreen and full screen option, a welcome addition to those of with tiny, square televisions who hate black bars.
Guilty. But viewers might not have the time of their lives watching this film.
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