There’s nothing like a good heist movie— ingenious cons, comeuppance for the greedy and a well-deserved payday for the underdog, who while usually flawed, you just can’t help loving.
Under the best of these variations, featuring colorful grifters, second story thieves and recently-out-of-prison safe crackers, lay scripts designed like Swiss time pieces, the mechanisms unwinding with precision. Add a few decent actors and let the fun begin.
“Mad Money” arrives as the latest casualty of this process being turned on its head – another celebrity driven theft saga (the “Ocean” series being the most notable offender). Starring Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, and Katie Holmes, this comes across more like a high school prank than a caper; the plot about as challenging as a game of hide-and-go-seek in a closet.
Directed by Oscar winner Callie Khouri, whose short but impressive gender-tinted resume includes “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and “Thelma and Louise,” this ineffectual genre hybrid features a singularly feminine point of view.
In “Mad Money” the failure of men to live up to their responsibility demands the intervention of women to accomplish, for the good of the family, what the males could not.
In this story of necessitated sisterhood, three women from disparate origins discover commonality in their current state of misery. Two have found a way to make peace with less than optimum circumstances. It’s the third, inconvenienced by a sudden and forced frugality, who stokes the latent discontent and potential for criminality among her coworkers.
The rabble-rouser, Bridget Cardigan, played by Keaton in yet another reprise of the suburban wife who never quite made it out of the sorority, has found herself confronted by a compromised lifestyle when her husband, Don Cardigan (Ted Danson), the breadwinner for the late middle-aged couple, becomes unemployed.
Don, a middle-level executive who has been victimized by some combination of outsourcing, downsizing, and reorganization, finds he has no marketable skills. Bridget, unable to adjust to the new realities of a constricted cash flow, continues to spend, precipitating an inevitable slide into deep dept.
In a reluctant acknowledgement of her new reality, she goes to work as a janitor at the US Treasury, thereby at least gaining health benefits.
The position comes with the privilege of having access to everywhere that needs to be cleaned, which is everywhere. Most captivating, yet distressing, for this woman who has no money, is the treasury’s process of destroying it—burning its worn currency in a furnace.
Incinerating the limp and crinkled notes like yesterday’s newspapers, Nina Brewster (Queen Latifa) cremates the dead presidents with indifference to their potential value. Bridget takes it upon herself to bring this oversight to her attention.
Having convinced the single mother and ghettodweller of how a private education could enhance the life of her two sons currently attending public institutions of underachievement, the germ of an idea moves forward toward a conspiracy to rob the government.
To round out Bridget’s brainstorm, another low-wage earner must be recruited—one whose status and intelligence, in the eyes of those paid to secure the nation’s piggy banks, merits little concern.
Jackie Truman (Katie Holmes), who transports the condemned currency to its place of execution, wears a set of headphones, the music keeping her hips in perpetual gyration, as she pushes her cart of cash. Living in a trailer with her boyfriend, a young man with a limited intellect and hourly wage, neither likely to climb she jumps at Bridget’s invitation.
This sorta comedy, sorta crime drama ends up in narrative purgatory. On paper, “Mad Money,” given the general concept and its star power, begins with fresh and invigorating capital. But somewhere along the creative trail, that currency got worn and unlike the subject of its tale, received undeserved clemency.
As such it will most likely experience a less dignified passing, suffering at the box office before temporarily lingering on the life support of a DVD rental.