"Mad Money" is a heist comedy that doesn't rip off the audience. Although it's rough around the edges, Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes keep the mood lighthearted and quirky.
The prologue gives us upper-crust Bridget (Keaton), single mom Nina (Latifah) and trailer park ditz Jackie (Holmes) hastily destroying piles of currency as the police close in. The body of the movie shows how they got there.
Three years earlier, rich empty-nester Bridget was blithely unaware that she and husband Don (Ted Danson) were nearing bankruptcy after his firm downsized him out of the executive suite. Unable to pay the maid, Bridget takes up the mop herself, swapping her designer duds for a janitor's jumpsuit at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. The sight of millions of dollars in tattered money being destroyed each day inspires her to hatch a plan to skim some for herself. She talks upright currency shredder Nina into joining the scheme so her boys can attend a costly private school, and hooks cash trolley attendant Jackie with the idea that she can travel the world.
The bank's stiff-backed security chief (Stephen Root) oversees a system of surveillance cameras, random searches and locked cash carts, confident that none of the employees is bright enough to overcome his precautions. The robberies don't have much visual flair, but the film gives us a rooting interest in the trio's success as they outsmart the condescending creep.
The movie is full of little gags that pay off better than you'd expect, like the shout-out to manic CSNBC investing guru Jim Cramer, whose "Mad Money" show is apparently must-see viewing at Nina's modest apartment. The film makes good points about the rapacious materialism that infects the characters with their infusions of cash. Keaton knows she shouldn't flash her newfound riches but can't resist splurging on a $62,000 ring.
Director Callie Khouri, who wrote "Thelma and Louise," delivers a choppy movie -- the chronology is jumpy, and the character of Jackie's boyfriend appears like a rabbit out of a hat -- but she has a solid grasp of the lightweight characters. Danson is nervous and funny as Keaton's scandalized but grateful husband, while she delivers a zingy performance as a pillar of society who discovers her inner Dillinger. Holmes doesn't have much of a role; her main defining characteristic is dancing endlessly to her iPod. Still, she manages to out-ditz Keaton, which is an accomplishment.
Latifah shows what she can do when she isn't cramped in a sassy, finger-snapping stereotype. She makes Nina an agreeably rounded character who can be gruff, insecure or romantic as the situation allows. And she can snap a punchline like a bullwhip. When she tells an oily private school admissions officer that she'll have no difficulty paying the full tuition immediately, he gives her an inauthentic smile. Then she shoots back with a naughty smirk, "Can I pay you in crack?" Touché, girl.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186