Last Night: Mad Money at the Block in orange

After approximately five Miller Lites from my favorite OC bartender Ife (he works at both Cafe Tu Tu Tango and The Auld Dubliner), I had a decision to make: which midnight movie to see?

CLOVERFIELD would clearly have been the best option, but I had already seen it. That left two options:

27 DRESSES Pluses: Katherine Heigl's hot, and Malin Akerman is both hot and amazingly talented. And Judy Greer as the trainwreck supporting character; I've liked her since THE SPECIALS. I think Cyclops from X-men is also in it. Minuses: Sounds exactly like THE WEDDING PLANNER, which really sucked, and starred Jennifer Lopez. But I repeat myself.

MAD MONEY Minuses: Stupid title that sounds like a bad rap song (see also HOW SHE MOVE, opening next week). Queen Latifah hasn't been in any good movie I can remember since HOUSE PARTY 2 (yes, CHICAGO included, though ICE AGE 2 was semi-okay). Pluses: Ted Danson and Stephen Root. And it has Katie Holmes, who's extremely easy for a critic to make fun of. Also the movie's kind of an underdog opening against a big monster action movie and a wedding-based chick flick.

I went with MAD MONEY. And it isn't terrible. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, so be it.

It turns out that the title actually isn't based on ebonics at all, but since its only explained during the last five minutes or so of the movie, I guess it's spoiler territory. If you're that desperate to know, go see it.

The funny thing about MAD MONEY is that it totally advocates stealing for personal gain. This isn't a movie where the characters learn that what they're doing is bad. Ever. When they get in trouble, it's still presented like the guys catching them are the bad guys. If your kids are having trouble with right-and-wrong concepts, this isn't a good movie for them to see. But for jaded cinephiles like myself who don't enjoy being preached to by Hollywood, it's amusing when a filmmaker just totally throws that out the window.

The director, as it happens, is Callie Khouri, screenwriter of THELMA & LOUISE, so she's used to justifying female criminal behavior. It's all empowering and stuff. But it's also easier to buy when it's a story about women in abusive relationships who go on a rampage. Here, Diane Keaton's married to a totally nice guy (Danson) who happens to be unemployed and in a lot of debt, so he's forced to sell their ridiculously fancy house. I think we're supposed to feel terrible that they might have to move into a house more like one that the average moviegoer is likely to live in.

So Keaton takes a job as a janitor at the Federal Reserve, where she meets Latifah, whose job it is to shred worn-out bits of paper currency. Keaton, on the first day, decides she wants to steal the money that's destined to be destroyed anyway, so she basically stares psychotically at Latifah a whole lot until she gives in, and then they enlist Katie Holmes, a flaky pothead who dances expressively, to be the third party to the crime. And they get away with it. But then Keaton wants to keep doing it. Her insistence on it while maintaining even dialogue tones throughout and flashing occasional nutty smiles makes me think there was a whole deleted subplot about her being psychotic. If there wasn't, there should have been.

Turns out this movie is a remake of a UK TV movie called HOT MONEY, which in turn was based on a true story, so I'm a bit surprised they didn't try to pull off the “true story” tagline here too. Haven't seen the original, but just by reading a bit about it online, I gather it has a different ending that maybe doesn't advocate stealing quite so much.

Ted Danson's really quite good in his thankless role as the kinda-sorta moral compass of the film – I'd like to see him in more movies. Maybe it's time for “Three Old Men and a Baby”? Holmes is great as a semi-insane flake who doubtless eschews psychiatry – can't imagine where she got the inspiration for the role. And even Latifah's decent, playing a beaten-down single mom rather than the usual sassy big mama wedge she's been forced into.

But lest you think I'm raving up this movie too much, let's get real. It isn't really all that funny. In fact, the only time I laughed out loud was when Keaton goes to Latifah's neighborhood, and a car full of gangstas drive by and call her “Miss Daisy.”

Don't pay full price for it, is what I'm saying. It's mediocre, but it's not obnoxiously so. I had an okay time. But I had also had five beers.


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