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Dustin Putman

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Mad Money  (2008)
2 Stars
Directed by Callie Khouri
Cast: Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes, Ted Danson, Roger R. Cross, Adam Rothenberg, Stephen Root, J.C. MacKenzie, Christopher McDonald, Meagen Fay, Finesse Mitchell, Marc Macaulay.
2008 – 103 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual material, language and brief drug references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 27, 2007.
If ever there were a network sitcom about three blue-collar women who make a second career out of being thieves at the bank they work at, it might look a lot like "Mad Money." Lacking the visual canvas of a typical star-laden studio comedy and almost claustrophobic in its preference for interior locations, the film is small in scale and perfect for the doldrums of its January release date. That is not to suggest that what director Callie Khouri (2002's "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood") and screenwriter Glenn Gers (2007's "Fracture") have made is an out-and-out failure, only that it is frivolous, middle-of-the-road, and arrives brandishing a questionable but at least different message: money does buy happiness.

When office executive husband Don (Ted Danson) is laid off, decades-long homemaker Bridget Cardigan (Diane Keaton) faces losing her lush home and valued material possessions when their owed debts rise above the $250,000 mark. With no other choice, she gets a janitorial position at the Kansas City National Reserve, a thankless job that gives her plenty of time to work out a seemingly foolproof plan to get the money she so badly needs. Seeking the help of two co-workers, concerned single mother Nina Brewster (Queen Latifah) and daffy free spirit Jackie Truman (Katie Holmes), Bridget and her new pals begin swiping the old money about to be destroyed to make room for the fresh cash in a scheme they believe can't fail. As their funds go up and more people are brought into their fold—Jackie's meat packer husband Bob (Adam Rothenberg) and security officer Barry (Roger R. Cross)—some investigators start sniffing around their business. Quickly, it becomes clear they are walking on a thin layer of ice threatening to crack at any moment.

Chronologically speaking, "Mad Money" opens near the end, revealing right from the start that the characters at some point are caught trying to burn the evidence and taken in for questioning. This structural misstep is especially problematic because, save for a somewhat predictable last-minute twist, the viewer immediately knows where the plot is leading. Not only that, but it also pretty much cements what is suspected: that the movie is going nowhere special. For a comedy—and one, it should be added, in need of some levity or drama to counterbalance the airy tone—"Mad Money" is more cute than actually funny. The crime caper material is diverting for a time before it grows repetitive, and the three central characters aren't developed enough to gain our sympathy.

Diane Keaton (2007's "Because I Said So") is a lively presence as Bridget, and it's a joy to see a lead role of this kind played by someone over the age of sixty. Unfortunately, Bridget isn't terribly likable, her whole complex game plan based upon her shallow refusal to be anything other than upper-class. At least Nina's need for money is more selfless, yearning to rack up enough dough to be able to send her two sons to prestigious private schools so they can get better educations. Queen Latifah (2007's "The Perfect Holiday") approaches Nina in a lower, gentler key and with less brassiness than she is usually known for, in many ways stealing the film from her co-stars.

Finally, all that is learned about Jackie is that she lives in an RV with her hubby, likes bopping to the music from her earphones while she works, and yearns to travel to other countries far and wide (not all of them still in existence, she is dismayed to learn). Katie Holmes (2006's "Thank You for Smoking") is gleefully uninhibited and surprisingly amusing as the comic relief, but her character isn't given the time to rise above two dimensions. Having been away from acting for almost two years, surely Holmes could have found a more worthwhile part than this one to make her grand return.

What "Mad Money" has in energy it lacks in depth. The film's point—that crime, in fact, does pay—is immoral without being satirical, and director Callie Khouri seems to disturbingly believe in this message even as she does a poor job of justifying it. With the characters acting as second-fiddle to the plot, they are not afforded the room to breathe within the shoes they are filling. It all adds up to more of a whimper than a bang—a thinly drawn female-empowerment lark without the spine to be as ruthless as it wants to be and without the smarts to be half as memorable as it should.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman