Mad Money (2008)

(In theaters, January 2008) If you want to understand Hollywood, why not avoid the best, ignore the worst and take a look at what falls right in-between? Take Mad Money, for instance, a middle-of-the-road criminal comedy that does nothing particularly well but still manages to entertain as long as you don’t ask too many questions. The setup is elegant: Three women in menial jobs at the Federal Reserve unite to smuggle out dollar bills on their way to the shredder. The details are dull and asinine (I can think of five practical objections to the scheme without thinking too hard: serial numbers; job rotation; truly-random searches, money laundering and volume handling), but this is not a detail-oriented movie. It’s really an excuse to see Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes play their own demographic stereotypes and spend some time thinking about what we would do in a similar situation. Never mind the weird ethics in which the movie tortures itself, the inner moral contradictions, the cheap ending or the broad physical comedy that never feels even connected to reality. It’s not such a bad time at the movies: in fact, given the dearth of female-driven movie out there, it’s almost a welcome change of pace. Mad Money‘s script is clumsy, from a flashback-driven structure to a disappointing number of modest laughs here and there. But its main problem is the film’s lack of overall ambition, mordant wit, ethical concern or sustained tension: it doesn’t do much with what it has in stock. Oh, fans of the three lead actresses will be happy, but no one will be overly impressed. And that can very well stand for most of Hollywood’s mid-list offerings.

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