The American economy has seemed iffy for a while, but that doesn't come out at the movies. This decade's films have rarely acknowledged the facts of living in the aftermath of the irrational exuberance of the '90s. To be fair, there were all those cyber-terrorists and other 21st-century perils to dispatch, but given that most of us have had to worry more about making the mortgage or paying tuition or learning to eat generic cornflakes than getting blown up, the relative blind eye mainstream movies have turned to money matters has been a little weird.
So Mad Money, directed by Thelma & Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri, at least deserves some credit for talking about the elephant in the room. A remake of the British TV movie Hot Money, it takes place in a heartland America where everyone is feeling the pinch of the slump, beginning with once-wealthy housewife Diane Keaton and husband Ted Danson, who wind up deep in debt a year into Danson's unemployment. Forced to, gulp, work, Keaton takes a job at the Kansas City Federal Reserve, where she eventually ropes a pair of new down-market friends, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes, into stealing stacks of money earmarked for destruction.
The scheme works for a while. Sadly, the movie never does. As a heist film, it relies on the trio of felonious females besting a system that seems laughably easy to outwit. As a comedy, it relies on Keaton and Latifah playing the same characters they always play, and Holmes overcompensating by switching into bug-eyed manic-comedienne mode. Her performance is part Lucille Ball, part overcaffeinated chicken, and it deserves some credit for daring, but none for execution. And as a morality tale, the film has no morals to share. Money, it seems, could and should solve everyone's problems. And taking it should be no problem at all. That might work if there was a hint of wit to back up the cynicism, but Khouri directs as if simply getting through a scene was work enough. It's a thoroughly uninspired movie. Maybe "impoverished" is the better word.