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Maybe, just maybe, there are a few of you who’ve glimpsed the trailer for Callie Khouri’s latest film and thought, Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, and Katie Holmes, together at last! For everybody else, Mad Money is marked, bearing all the signs of a typical—read: terrible—January release. It’s a buddy comedy, only the odd couple is now a trio. It’s a heist flick with implicit wackiness. It’s got Keaton, who’s yet to rid herself of the stench of her contribution to last year’s winter dreck, Because I Said So. And she plays…a janitor. Someone fire the casting director, please.
But though the sight of Annie Hall in custodian’s clothes never quite feels right—her hair is too flippy, her glasses too fashionable—Mad Money’s setup is slightly more believable. Bridget (Keaton) is living a comfortable upper-middle-class life when her husband, Don (Ted Danson), is downsized from the corporate job that’s kept her not only well-accessorized but occupationally sheltered. They’re about to lose their house when Bridget, who apparently never even had to work at the DQ while studying for her English degree, takes a job cleaning toilets at the Federal Reserve. Her boss (Stephen Root) makes sure Bridget understands that each employee, constantly surrounded by cash, is watched every minute of the day, and that there’s never been a robbery in the branch’s history because it’s impossible.
Not for Bridget! During a fateful trip to Home Depot, she realizes that the megastore sells the same lock the feds use to secure the carts of worn-out bills they destroy daily. (Yeah, it’s a standard keyed padlock, bustable by any 4-year-old having a Tonka tantrum.) After a few months studying the system and weeding out potential accomplices (i.e.: not the dude who wants to turn in a found $20), Bridget approaches Nina (Latifah), the devoted single mom who shreds the cash, and Jackie (Holmes), the spacey free spirit who transports the money, and persuades them to help her pull off the perfect crime. “It’s like recycling!” Bridget reasons.
It’s surprising that Mad Money, adapted by Glenn Gers from a British TV movie, isn’t quite the disastrous bumbling-broads caper it promises to become. Granted, Khouri (whose previous project for theatrical release was writing and directing 2002’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) and Gers ask you to swallow a lot besides the idea that thousands of dollars is secured with a dollar-store lock. The women, for instance, have a fondness for the bank’s handicapped stalls, gathering there to giggle loudly with fistfuls of cash or regroup when there’s a hitch in their plans. Everyone who becomes privy to their crime, including Don and a security guard (Roger Cross), puts up way-too-mild resistance before happily going along with it. Most irritating, though, is Holmes’ character, who with her headphones and continuous grooving is supposed to seem an anything-goes type but instead is simply a brow-furrowing, eye-widening dipshit who responds to suggestions that they don’t do anything stupid with, “Oh, man, I hate being smart!”
Keaton and Latifah, however, lend enough intelligence, wit, and charm to Bridget and Nina that Mad Money more often feels like an ovarian Ocean’s Eleven. The execution of a well-crafted heist is always fun to watch, and the filmmakers wisely keep pratfalls and one-liners to a minimum. There’s even an attempt at a message beyond thou-shalt-not-steal, with barbs aimed at advertising and our consumer culture. Or are they justifications? Admittedly, between the film’s ending and scenes such as Nina’s earnest explanation, accompanied by tinkly music, that “what happened is we found a way to get what we wanted,” Mad Money isn’t as concerned with ethics as it is with having a good time. And anything the boys can do—well, the girls haven’t exactly done it better, but they’ve at least risen above expectations.