January 24, 2008


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Mad Money (PG-13)
Like a mouse eating away at your home’s wiring, Diane Keaton gnaws on my last nerve as a rich woman who just can’t downsize in Mad Money, a movie that needs a good hard slap to the face.

Or maybe just a punch in the gut. This movie doesn’t contain violence but it encourages you to have violent feelings toward it.

Bridget Cardigan (Keaton) is a screechy woman approaching her golden years but finding that all that metal shine was just gold plating — Mr. Cardigan (Ted Danson) has been downsized and somehow they’re in $200,000 in debt. Bridg pluckily decides to get a job but quickly finds out that years of being overdressed don’t count as work experience and winds up with a janitorial job at the Federal Reserve Bank. Now, one might argue that a job with government benefits and I’ll bet some kind of pension is pretty much the definition of jackpot for someone with no job skills, zero ambition and a snotty attitude. But Bridget soon decides that her hourly wage isn’t good enough and she devises a plan to steal some of the worn-out money that the bank destroys every day. Because of the jobs along the line of the money’s processing, Bridget brings the flighty Jackie (Katie Holmes) and the responsible and mature Nina (Queen Latifah) in on her plan.

In spite of Bridget’s extremely suspicious behavior, the ladies are able to pull off the cash grab — so they try it a few more times, each swearing they’re only in it until they reach relatively modest financial goals (out of debt for Bridget, tuition for a private school for Nina’s boys; Jackie seems to be going along for fun). But once they get their initial stashes of cash, Bridget wants to keep going. Why? She’s insane and also stupid and also greedy. Nina lays out a reasoned argument for stopping but the women go ahead with it anyway, naturally drawing attention to themselves.

I don’t like saying this any more than you like hearing this but, I think I might just despise the acting style of Diane Keaton. Because I Said So. The Family Stone. Something’s Gotta Give. And now this. These movies are going a long way to erase all that good will I had stored up for her from The Godfather and early Woody Allen movies. Her recent movies seem to have decided that the way to create onscreen magic is to take her performance to hysteria and then turn up the volume until my eardrums bleed. Her squeaky screams and her daffy antics don’t translate into Carole Lombard screwball comedy gold — though clearly that’s what the movie thinks it’s doing. All this goofiness makes Keaton look ridiculous. I’m not saying she has to play the Queen of England in every movie but acting like a spoiled toddler is simply not appealing. It’s not even tolerable.

Keaton might be the mad scientist behind her lunatic performance but someone else is at fault for the plot holes in this movie and for the persistently aggravating fact that Nina’s character is absolutely right throughout the movie (she tells them to stop while they’re ahead, to hide rather than spend the money) but the movie brushes aside her logic and tells us that we’re supposed to like — in spite of herself, perhaps — the “loveable” Bridget. This isn’t women triumphantly “doing it for themselves.” This isn’t Nine to Five. This is the kind of half-baked scheme that usually ends with its addled perpetrators seeing their faces on the local news and their names in News of the Weird.

Mad Money has respect for neither its audience nor its actresses and leads you through a grating story that never once feels genuine. Forget millions in wrinkled tens and twenties; I just want my $7.50 back. D-

Rated PG-13 for sexual material and language and brief drug references. Directed by Callie Khouri and written by Glenn Gers, Mad Money is an hour and 44 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Overture Films.