'Mad Money': We've Been Robbed!

Queen Latifah, Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes as bank employees with their own ideas about where bills should go when taken out of circulation.
Queen Latifah, Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes as bank employees with their own ideas about where bills should go when taken out of circulation. (By Melissa Moseley -- Overture Films)
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 18, 2008

It's a red flag that "Mad Money," a crime comedy starring Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes, is being released in January, that notorious cinematic dumping ground for bad movies. But even though this instantly forgettable outing isn't great, it's at least mediocre, which in this dry gray season at the multiplex qualifies as its own form of praise.

And say this much: "Mad Money" finds Keaton dialing it back considerably from her recent deranged turn in "Because I Said So," reminding viewers of the actress we came to know and love in "Manhattan" and "Annie Hall." Admittedly, she succumbs to a few mannered moments but mostly plays it straight as an upper-class Kansas City matron who, when her corporate husband falls on hard times, takes a job as a janitor at the Federal Reserve.

Keaton's Bridget Cardigan notices that the Fed regularly shreds money too old to stay in circulation; she persuades single mom Nina (Latifah) and rocker chick Jackie (a post-childbirth Holmes looking svelte and sultry) to join with her to, as she puts it, "recycle" the bills -- and repurpose them straight into their own bank accounts.

"Mad Money," which is directed by Callie Khouri (best known for writing "Thelma & Louise") and written by Glenn Gers, is based on a British TV movie, which itself was reportedly based on a true case. The filmmakers have Americanized the story, injecting it with sharply observed critiques of Madison Avenue-stoked consumerism and greed. At one point a character defends her profligate shopping by saying she's only being a "good American," and in another scene the CNBC financial dervish Jim Cramer can be seen erupting into his signature, psychotically capitalist gesticulations.

These little digs provide a few rueful laughs throughout "Mad Money," as do the deadpan observations of Ted Danson as Bridget's by turns depressive and bemused husband. The principal actresses all hit their marks with appeal and professionalism, Latifah providing her usual air of sublime assurance, Holmes playing the sexy ditz with perky likability, Keaton providing a sly inkling of who Kay might have become had she thrown in with Michael in "The Godfather."

But somehow the early promise of madcap action and clever plotting never quite delivers, in part because of Khouri's unsteady direction. She dives into "Mad Money" in the middle of things and continues to skip through it at a choppy pace, which certainly gets rid of the lumpy exposition that plagues so many productions, but also sells the story and characters short. The chief victim of "Mad Money's" hit-and-run style is Jackie, whose most memorable qualities are her sinuous dancing while she empties the Fed's trash and her sprightly, unquestioning agreeability, which one senses was written into the script simply to keep things moving.

With its portrait of sisterhood-in-mischief, you'd think "Mad Money" would at least provide the vicarious thrill of sticking it to The Man. But once Bridget gets pathologically greedy, all rooting interest in her scheme disappears like so many pulped Benjamins. "Mad Money" might have been a classic caper flick on a par with "9 to 5," "Ocean's Eleven" or "Fun With Dick and Jane" -- a "Fun With Jane and Jane and Jane," if you will. The only problem is that, ultimately, it's not that much fun.

Mad Money (102 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual material, profanity and brief drug references.

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