Any movie which features Diane Keaton, Ted Danson, Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes and Roger Cross simply can't be bad, right? A few Hollywood legends, a woman almost universally liked, a young teen star trying to make it in the movies and one of the best co-stars for Kiefer Sutherland on "24." Mix them all up in a comedy and "Mad Money" should be an enjoyable romp. Instead, moviegoers are treated-I use that term loosely-to a dreadfully dumb caper flick without the charms of the "Ocean's 11" characters or the swagger of "The Untouchables." Call this a felony movie for the geriatric crowd.
Poor Bridget and Don (Keaton and Danson, respectively). Their upper middle class lifestyle is shot when he finds himself out of work for a year and the couple rack up nearly $300,000 in debt…about which Bridget is blissfully unaware. In a bid to save their home, she takes a job as a janitor at the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City. In her regular duties, she devises a plan to "rescue" money otherwise slated for destruction. Along with accomplices, they stockpile cash over a three year period.
It is quite unfathomable how this much talent gets a movie this completely and utterly wrong. There's zero thought given to the character's motivations, let alone real world complications and consequences ot bilking the federal government out of the amount of cash these ladies do. The entire scheme starts as a way for Bridget and Don to keep their home. It morphs into a way for Nina (Queen Latifah) to send her kids to private school and an activity to which Jackie (Holmes) easily says "why not."
Never mind the potential jail time if they are caught is never seriously considered. Never mind all their lives are ruined, names tarnished and the black cloud that would follow them. Forget Nina's kids or her new boyfriend, federal reserve security guard Barry (Cross). And disregard the way each of the characters is a blatant stereotype: the struggling single black mother, the well to do white couple, "trailer trash." How much more generic and safe can a movie possibly get?
Yes, they continue, despite halfhearted arguments from Don. He happens to be the only halfway sane one in the entire group. The way all six of the main characters (including Jackie's husband Bob) treat this escape as nothing more than a "job"-a very good paying job, mind you-is appalling, to say the least. Any person with an iota of common sense would have stopped this train wreck before it started. How can a person not know money is running out when her husband isn't working? Or when the maid's check bounces-for the third time? And why it is of paramount importance to save a house, a thing? How exactly is $300k of debt going to be paid on a janitor's salary? Why hasn't Don found any type of job in a year?
None of it really matters, obviously, because those are real world concerns and this isn't a real world movie. Logic is thrown out the window in favor of getting the characters into wholly illogical places. Take, for instance, the rationale behind the stealing not being a felony: the money was going to be destroyed anyway, no one is going to miss it. Yep, that's about the entirety of the defense. And that's the part of "Mad Money" that's so incredibly hard to shake: this many seemingly smart people with everything on the line got on board this runaway train without thinking.
To suggest, as the movie does, the women got away with this ruse for three years is similarly preposterous. Especially considering the way Stephen Root plays the security chief at the bank (or maybe it's the chief…his job is never clearly identified). "We see everything, everywhere, all the time" or some rubbish like that is a mantra he likes to repeat ad nauseum. The only problem? It's a bunch of bunk. Not only were locks on cash carts switched out, but keys were smuggled between workers, stacks of bills tucked into clothing on the way out of the door…and all under the watchful gaze of entirely too many video cameras.
In a movie like this, I don't mind spoiling the entire thing in an attempt to save everyone else from the dreck on screen. As an older lady and her husband next to me said as the credits rolled, "If these were real people, they would all be in federal prison." Quite right. Without giving any thought to that, though, everyone is exonerated in the end through some loophole of the justice system. The money, apparently, is untraceable and since Glover (Root) insists his bank is 100% safe, no one is willing to go on the record about what might or might not have happened. Thus, the group gets off with a warning and having to pay taxes-which effectively wipes them out.
Now, maybe it's my imagination, but the money which is found in each of their houses and while the ladies are attempting to get rid of it is evidence. (The information they give to investigators is thrown out due to another legal loophole.) And it's just foolish pride getting in the way of their arrest from Glover's perspective. The finale turns out to be nothing more than an enticement for other people to try the same shenanigans. These people have learned nothing and will benefit from stolen money. It just doesn't sit right with me, either from a story or moral perspective.
Are there good intentions here? Sure. "Mad Money" is family friendly without gore, violence or sex. The cast-with the sole exception of Holmes-are eminently watchable. (Her problem is the character, not the actress complete with wet dog-inspired hair.) Every single time a character makes a decision, it turns out to be the wrong one, further complicating the situation. Why does Barry get involved? Who the hells knows…the story doesn't care. Why does Glover cover-in essence-for the thieves at the end of the film, aside from pride? Why do Bridget and Don not just sell their home, downgrade and pay off their debt like normal people? There's nothing normal about the movie, which is a shame. Everyone involved deserves better.
(There is a spark early on between Keaton and Danson, prompting some hope the rest of the film will be worthwhile. Sadly, she goes into automatic and he acts as though he's in it for the paycheck. The only one truly acting here is Holmes, only because I don't buy she is as wack-a-doo as Jackie turns out being.)
It should come as no shock, then, that I can't in any conscious recommend "Mad Money." The 104-minutes is so mind-numbingly idiotic I think you may loose brain cells when watching. It rates a 4 out of 10, and every bit of the score is for the actors who put up with this moronic material, almost succeeding in making it pleasant.