Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
I couldn’t work at the Federal Reserve. Can you imagine watching millions of dollars change hands every day while taking home a lousy paycheck and being watched by a bunch of Orwellian cameras and guards just so you don’t get any funny ideas?
That’s the setting for Mad Money, which takes place at the Kansas City branch of the Federal Reserve, through which millions of dollars not only circulate, but also where millions of old dollar bills go to die. It’s the spleen of our national currency, and its very existence raises the question: What’s wrong with boosting some of this doomed dough – it’s going to be destroyed anyway, right?
The mastermind behind the heist is a middle-aged woman played by Diane Keaton, who works as a janitor at the reserve because her white-collar husband (Ted Danson) lost his job. Keaton’s character teams up with the woman who runs the currency incinerator (Queen Latifah) and a flighty third woman (Katie Holmes, natch). Their plan is actually pretty clever. One of the women quips, "It’s not really stealing, it’s more like recycling."
Mad Money director Callie Khouri has explored similar territory before in her screenplay for Thelma and Louise, in which otherwise good women go bad. In this case, though, we’re dealing with a much more lighthearted script and a far more lightweight story. These aren’t hardened criminals, and unlike Thelma and Louise (whose abusive spouses drove them out of their homes), the women in Mad Money get involved in these shenanigans because they love the men in their lives.
The heist itself also goes off with an appropriately lighthearted lack of violence. The triplex of heroines choreograph their crime with a series of friendly smiles and odd hand signals. Believe me, this isn’t like the Lufthansa job from GoodFellas, and it lacks the edge of any of the crimes from Thelma and Louise. It’s all in good fun, with a satisfyingly clueless performance from the ladies’ uptight boss (Stephen Root).
Because of the lighter tone, Mad Money doesn’t explore the murky morality seen in Thelma and Louise – not even jail time seems like it would be a life-altering experience in Mad Money. But that doesn’t mean her Khouri’s movie has nothing to say. It’s no mistake that the three women come from different social and economic backgrounds, and I got the message: In the Bush recession, we’re all in the same boat. A sinking one.
I guess I could raise an objection to the unbalanced portrayal of the sexes in Mad Money. To be sure, the women are well-conceived and have backbones, while several men are one-dimensional chauvinists – but in the grand tally of cinema history, Khouri could write 1,000 more movies like this, and we’d still have a deficit in the ratio of compelling women versus compelling men.
Khouri’s female characters attack life and have fun doing it, and in both Mad Money and Thelma and Louise, the journey is more important than the destination – but it’s still worth taking. Keaton turns in another strong performance, while Latifah brings her trademark brassy attitude to bear.
And it’s nice to see Holmes spend some time away from Tom Cruise.
But as much fun as this movie is, its light tone is a liability. You’ll forget about it once the credits roll. Thelma and Louise need not worry – their place in history is secure.