If only the producers of 'Mad Money' had a crystal ball… Though there's little indication this estrogen-infused heist comedy ever would be anything but a box office bomb, I can't help wondering whether it might have received a bit warmer reception had it been released after the stock market crashed instead of during a period of relative prosperity. Callie Khouri's film sure seems more topical in today's struggling economy than it did when it premiered back in January of 2008, but such relevance can't disguise the movie's weak script and pedestrian direction. Though 'Mad Money' has its moments (thanks largely to its appealing cast), it remains hopelessly mired in mediocrity, and doesn't possess the tools to dig itself out.
Based on a true story (believe it or not), 'Mad Money' is a remake of the 2001 British TV movie 'Hot Money,' but it reminds me much more of the lightweight '80s recession comedy, 'How to Beat the High Cost of Living.' While that film chronicles a trio of penny-pinching suburban housewives who plot to foil a shopping mall's giveaway promotion by vacuuming the cash out of a giant moneyball, 'Mad Money' follows three down-on-their-luck female Federal Reserve employees who hatch a scheme to "recycle" retired U.S. currency before it hits the shredder. Both films are buoyed by the sparkling personalities of their respective lead actresses, but despite its clever premise, almost everything about 'Mad Money' lacks distinction. The unfocused screenplay provides only a few half-hearted chuckles, and Khouri, who back in the '90s wrote and produced a much better tale of female empowerment ('Thelma and Louise'), lacks the finesse to pump up the middling story.
"Crime is contagious," says upper-middle-class housewife Bridget Cardigan (Diane Keaton), who must abandon her spendthrift ways and go back to work when her unemployed husband (Ted Danson) informs her they're bankrupt. Bridget's lack of marketable skills, however, radically limits her options, and forces her to take a demeaning job as a janitor at the Federal Reserve's Kansas City branch. Though her co-workers perceive her as just another ditzy, uneducated dame, Bridget pays close attention to how the Fed does business, and notices the agency shreds thousands upon thousands of worn-out bills every day. It suddenly dawns on her that if she could somehow steal just a fraction of that currency, it would never be missed, so she enlists the help of two fellow employees – a poor single mother (Queen Latifah) and free-spirited Gen-Xer (Katie Holmes) – to help her pull off the crime of the century.
'Mad Money' treads familiar ground in its depiction of women as outside-the-box self-starters who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and take charge when the going gets tough. While their impotent men snivel and bemoan their predicament, the women roll up their sleeves, dirty their hands, and do what it takes to get back on their feet. Of course, 'Mad Money' doesn't condone breaking the law to achieve one's dreams, but its underlying message of the little guy (or gal) beating the system against all odds comes through loud and clear. It's a well-worn theme that strikes a chord even in good economic times, but the film doesn't bring anything new to the table as the story plays out.
I'm a big Diane Keaton fan, and her quirky style and boundless effervescence almost salvage 'Mad Money.' Yes, the material is beneath her, but once you accept that fact and move on, it's fun to watch her clueless housewife evolve into a ruthless criminal mastermind who's transformed and liberated by engineering such a preposterous yet ingenious scam. Latifah brings her usual blend of street-wise attitude and plus-size heart to her role, and she and Keaton complement each other well. The odd girl out is Holmes, who's pleasant enough but never generates any comic sparks. If the rumor is true and she really did turn down 'The Dark Knight' in favor of this drivel, she should have her head examined.
'Mad Money,' like the Dow Jones average, can't sustain itself over the long haul, and doesn't pay the dividends it promises. In such tough economic times, watching this feminine trio giddily steal and spend bucket loads of dough is either vicarious wish fulfillment or just plain annoying, depending on your point of view. Either way, it's a highly speculative investment of your time, which these days just might be more valuable than cash.
I'd love to say 'Mad Money' looks like a million bucks on Blu-ray, but Anchor Bay's 1080p transfer errs on the soft side, with images that are clear enough but lack the striking detail of top-notch high-def efforts. The stark, industrial atmosphere of the Federal Reserve often lends the picture a drab look, but the suburban sequences exude more lushness. Colors aren't exactly vivid, but the hues possess some pop, and fleshtones look natural. Blacks are a bit anemic and contrast is, too. While close-ups enjoy good sharpness, fine details such as skin pores and facial hair never quite come through as crisply as we'd like.
Digital enhancements, like edge sharpening and noise reduction, however, are absent, and no posterization or mosquito noise mar the picture. This is a decent transfer that's pleasant enough to watch, but won't knock your socks off.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track doesn't offer much in the way of surround activity, but it provides perfectly acceptable audio. The front-heavy mix benefits from decent imaging, with dialogue properly prioritized and always comprehendible. The music track brightens the field, and an explosion late in the film pumps in a welcome bit of bass, but the story's talky nature never tests the track's range. All in all, the audio is A-OK – nothing more, nothing less.
A few middling extras round out the disc. All supplements are in HD, however, so that's a plus.
'Mad Money' may be light on laughs and can't sustain itself over the long haul, but it's still a tolerable escapist comedy that puts some salve on our current economic wounds. The caper antics make this chick flick more guy-friendly than most, but it never rises above the mundane. Standard video and audio transfers and run-of-the-mill extras don't add much to this rental bin release.