Review: “Mad Money”

In recent years, I’ve developed a strong allergy to Diane Keaton. Maybe she’s always clogged my nose. Her comic energy fits well in some of the early Woody Allen movies, but I’m not the biggest fan of Annie Hall. There’s little in the Godfather films that a hundred actresses couldn’t do.

In recent years, in films like the wretched The Family Stone and the putrid Because I Said So, she invariably plays the overbearing mother hen, weaving between nagging petulance to schmaltzy fluff, with a bad habit of breaking into spontaneous karaoke renditions of Motown songs that no one wants to hear. Sometimes you wonder if she chooses roles based less on quality than whether or not they look fun to make.

Among these films, Mad Money is relatively sufferable. Not outstanding, by any means. But at least her mother’s-little-helper screen persona evolves into something halfway watchable for stretches. She’s helped by a cast that bonds well over a half-interesting plot that, for once, has nothing to do with the female marriage fetish.

Keaton plays the housewife half of a married couple drowning in bills after her husband (Ted Danson) loses his corporate job. Moving into the job market, she finds that motherhood, middle age, and a comparative literature degree do not a hot job prospect make. Soon, she takes a job beneath her upper middle class bearings, as a cleaning lady at the Federal Reserve bank in Kansas City.

The bills are hardly going to be paid by scrubbing toilets. So soon she’s plotting with a couple of fellow workers (Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes) to steal worn-out Ben Franklins marked for destruction. Hey, the stuff’s heading for the trash heap, anyway. They figure out a way to beat the bank’s security system, and soon their cabinets, closets, and toilets are growing green. But it’s the built-in human security system of greed and overconfidence that they find harder and harder to beat.

The movie takes too long to tell its story, and the rather simple robbery gambit doesn’t really justify the length and wait. That said, the film forms a likeable vibe and camaraderie among its three female leads that’s more genuine than it feels like it ought to be. The feminine focus lets Danson do something he can do majestically – lay on the couch and let rip with a string of riotous lines. A perfect role for him, and he’s the movie’s real (scene) stealer.

Even more comforting is that the film isn’t completely empty. It at least pays lip service, if not quite cold hard cash, to the love of money being the root of all evil, and to the way that a small crime transforms into a major criminal enterprise when people can’t put the brakes on their greed and desire to consume. Sure, it’s not Sartre. But at least it got me through a Diane Keaton screening. There’s something to be said for that.