Mad Money

When it was pitched to the studio, I’m sure Mad Money was sold as some sort of feminized version of Ocean’s 11. Truth be told most of the Ocean’s audience is women anyway, they’re all showing up to see hot celebrity dudes, so why not give them an all girl edition of another big heist tale. Maybe I’m wrong, that’s just the idea I get from this stinker, which unlike the Ocean’s movies is written with a vicious bent towards being bland and forgettable. It works. The story seems awkward and the characters are little more than forced stereotypes.

However, since this is a heist flick its success centers entirely around the crime. The plot-theft in question involves three women knocking over the United States government. Diane Keaton plays a wealthy suburbanite whose husband loses his job, forcing her to abandon her nail appointments and actually do some work for once in her life. Having no actual qualifications beyond being the neighborhood gossip, she’s forced to take a position as the janitor at a Federal facility where they shred money.

That’s right, while you’re struggling to make your tax payments, somewhere in America money is quite literally being shredded by the bushels. When a bill gets old and worn out, it’s sent by your bank to Uncle Sam for recycling. After a few weeks watching billions end up in the dumpster, Keaton’s character, whose name isn’t important and shall therefore only be referred to in this review as “Keaton’s character” decides it’s time for a robbery. She comes up with a cunning plan, which takes advantage of the government’s absolutely inept security. We’re talking really inept here people. The money is protected by the kind of lock you used to use on your high school locker. You know, the utterly ineffective Master Locks that never seemed to do a damn bit of good when some asshole wanted to break into your locker to deface your Tears for Fears poster. They can’t stop a burn-out stoner, but apparently our government thinks they’re good enough to protect about 800 billion dollars.

In order to get the padlock off the cash, Keaton’s character needs more than a good pair of bolt cutters. So she enlists the help of two other characters: A ditzy twenty-something who’s seen one too many iPod commercial (Katie Holmes), and a single, sassy black mother who’d like to get her kids out of the ghetto and into a private school (Queen Latifah). Together, they put their plan into action, and run off with a lot of cash. Then they decide to do it again.

To me, that’s about the only thing that makes Mad Money interesting. The movie doesn’t end with their successful robbery. They keep going, walking out with more and more “to be destroyed” money, robbing their employer over and over, with no one the wiser. It’s been awhile since I saw that in a heist movie. Much of the film is spent watching them and their spouses, a bunch of “Ted Dansons” argue over when they should call it enough and cut it out. Keaton’s character doesn’t feel she’s filled enough suitcases, Queen Latifah’s character doesn’t want her kids to become orphans, and Katie Holmes’s character won’t be happy until she can afford to dance her way out of Tom Cruise’s life and down to Cabo.

The specifics of the big robbery centerpiece are pretty stupid, and most of the cast spends the movie sleepwalking. Mad Money is almost deliberately banal, but not particularly harmful. It’s not an offensively bad film, just a blissfully mediocre one. It doesn’t care about being any better, content instead to simply be a way to spend a couple of hours. In a month when your other choices involve things like Uwe Boll, maybe that’s the best we can hope for. In January, it’s always a good idea to lower your movie going expectations. Mad Money may be just the thing to lower them.