Traditionally, January is the time of year when studios dump all the films they don't think are going to do very well. With Mad Money, the new film directed by Calle Khouri, I'm not sure they're right. But that doesn't make it a good film. Mad Money follows Bridget Cardigan (Diane Keaton), an upper class housewife who needs to find a job in order to help stave off the impending financial doom caused by her husband being downsized. She starts working for the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, the place where they destroy used money.
In the bank, she quickly devises a plan to get some of that money out of the bank, something we are told is nigh on impossible. In order to get her plan to work, though, she needs two more people, Jackie and Nina (Katie Holmes and Queen Latifah). See, Bridget has a theory, that "crime is contagious." That once one person starts thinking about it, she can "infect" others with the desire.
The problem here, though, is that Bridget doesn't infect the others as much as she bullies them into agreeing to go ahead with things. She is the mastermind of the scheme and seems to have no moral issue with what she's doing or the emotional impact on those around her (including her husband, Ted Danson, who's having too much fun with the role).
Structurally, Mad Money starts near the end and uses the various players' interrogation room scenes to punctuate plot points. We know from the beginning they're going to get caught so it just becomes a matter of when and how it happens to keep the tension high.
Khouri plays the comedy fairly straight, only going over the top with Jackie's dim-witted husband (Adam Rothenberg), with almost all of the humor, then, coming from the situations the girls find themselves in. By the time the story catches up with itself, we have been given a few laughs and gotten to know the characters and honestly, they are not that interesting. Even knowing the police is interviewing them, we never get the feeling there's anything at stake. The one hot button issue, that the authorities will take single-mom Nina's kids away, never really feels like a threat. So with no consequences, it's hard to carry concern for any of the criminals. Even a comedy needs to have compelling characters.
From a filmmaking standpoint as well, Mad Money is nothing special. The script, by four different writers including Glenn Gers as the primary, is by the numbers. There are no real surprises. Khouri's direction is par. Nothing draws attention to itself, either good or bad. Even the performances are average. Keaton, who normally is quite strong, plays Bridget as someone who can keep her cool during the darkest of moments and yet flips out when something small happens. Queen Latifah is subdued and Holmes is over the top. There's no balance. Even the soundtrack is predictably filled with songs containing the word "money."
That all said, the audience I was with laughed at all the right places and seemed pleased with the ending, no matter the moral or ethical ambiguities involved. It might be a sign of the current political state that a story where the average person can take the US Government for millions of dollars and get away with it can cause enjoyment to the general public. But the message it sends, I fear, is not a good one.