Saying that Mad Money is better than a lot of Diane Keaton’s recent work isn’t saying much. Saying that it’s better than nearly all of Queen Latifah’s starring vehicles is saying even less. Saying that Katie Holmes is in a movie at all probably only brings a smile to Tom Cruise’s face, but that’s another matter entirely. What I’m getting at is the simple fact that Callie Khouri’s film (a huge comedown from her Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002)) is pretty much a painless exercise in mediocrity—nothing more.
I sat through the film without squirming (well, I could’ve done without Ted Danson in shorts). I chuckled a couple times. I admired the stylishness of a handful of scenes. I didn’t think the actors actually disgraced themselves. But I have all but forgotten the film in the space of about 24 hours. I also can’t even briefly imagine seeing it a second time—and I might have been a little peevish had I actually shelled out money to see it once.
Anyone who remembers the lightweight personality comedies from the ‘60s and early ‘70s knows this film—or something very like it. It’s basically the sort of movie that wandered out of theaters and into the once-thriving realm of the made-for-TV movie in the 1970s before disappearing altogether with the decline of the made-for-TV movie—the last medium that could sustain it. In modern terms, Mad Money might be called a low-concept comedy. The plot’s little more than an offshoot of Fun With Dick and Jane (either the 2005 or 1977 version) with a bargain-basement slab of Ocean’s Eleven (the 2001 version).
A year after Don Cardigan (Ted Danson) loses his job, wife Bridget (Keaton) finally realizes that their years of very upper-middle-class existence have come to an end. If it weren’t for the indigestible idea that they could go a quarter-million dollars in the hole before the penny dropped in the slot for Bridget that something was amiss, this might have actually had some relevance and resonance. The difficulty of people past a certain age finding employment is a very real problem—one that the film even briefly addresses—and it might have gone somewhere, except that Mad Money is only concerned with getting to its caper plot. This involves Bridget getting a janitorial position at the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank where she hits upon a remarkably simple plan to make off with a large quantity of money that’s marked for destruction by the bank.
The problem with this is that the plan is just too remarkably simple—and it has at least one huge hole in it, along with an assortment of “well, isn’t that convenient” moments. If robbing the Federal Reserve is this easy, sign me up for a stint of toilet-bowl cleaning immediately! All you need is a padlock, a job that involves carrying out the trash, a really slow elevator that’s apparently always on the most distant floor, an airhead accomplice (Holmes) who jives to her iPod so much that her contortions when pilfering the dough don’t draw attention and another partner (Latifah) working the shredder. Oh yeah, it also helps to have really capacious bras and panties in which to stuff the lucre. That’s about it, apart from some not very complicated complications, a mucked-up structure (the film starts with our heroines and their menfolk being found out) and a pretty transparent “surprise” ending.
Keaton and Latifah make it more bearable than it should be, but in the end, it will most greatly appeal to those who find the image of our heroines expressing spurious joy by throwing money in the air more delightful than phony. Rated PG-13 for sexual material and language and brief drug references.