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Where the Money Is   D

USA Films

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Marek Kanievska
Writers: E. Max Frye, Topper Lilien, Carroll Cartwright
Cast: Paul Newman, Linda Fiorentino, Dermont Mulroney, Susan Barnes, Anne Pitoniak, Michel Perron, Dorothy Gordon.

Review by Rob Vaux

USA Films and director Marek Kanievska should be congratulated. They've done what 30-odd years and countless films couldn't: make Paul Newman uninteresting. Moreover, they've done the same with Linda Fiorentino, the only actress searing enough to out-fatale Sharon Stone. With two actors of such caliber starring in a film as dull and tepid as Where the Money Is, the mind can't help but boggle. What did this production do to suck all the life out of them?

It could be the wacky caper premise, which smacks uncomfortably of The Sting -- or more accurately, the half-hearted rip-offs of The Sting that clogged mid-seventies drive-ins. Newman plays Henry, an imprisoned bank robber who gets out of jail by successfully faking a paralyzing stroke. Transferred to a state-run retirement home, he plans to play possum long enough to make a break for it, but not before his savvy nurse, Carol (Fiorentino), figures out that it's all an act. Luckily for him, she's fascinated by his checkered pass and convinces him to help her pull off a big heist...even though she has no idea what that might entail. Henry's willing, though, and with the help of Carol's dutiful husband Wayne (Dermont Mulroney), the two plan a daring armored car robbery that could land them millions.

The "daring", however, exists more in the screenwriter's mind than anywhere else. There's nothing here that inspires tension, amusement, or even interest. You find yourself watching events unfold and wondering why you can't bring yourself to care. Could it be the tepid dialogue? The fork-and-spoon direction? The script that any second-year film student would find contrived? All of these and more contribute to a final product that most movies of the week run circles around.

The pleasure of good caper movies derives from the details -- the meticulous planning of the operation and the (hopefully) ingenious ways of executing it. Films like The Sting or Die Hard revel in their characters' audacity, showing us how they attend to every possible contingency while keeping their eyes on the prize. Here, though, we receive nothing more than a rough glossing over, as Henry and Carol formulate their plans with an almost casual indifference. The execution is even less exciting than the preparation: the robbery plays like a trip to the post office, with few complications and less suspense. You find yourself hoping for a car chase, shootout, or anything to break the monotony.

This weak approach also taints the film's more human elements. Carol is supposed to be a free spirit constrained by a nowhere life (an opening sequence explains that she and Wayne were once wild youths until a car crash cut short their joie de vivre), which Henry can end. But there's no sense that the first scene connects with the rest of the movie, or indeed that it had any impact on the characters at all. They speak about their hopes with no passion or desire, reducing important motivation to a flat lecture. By the second half, they're not even going through the motions anymore, and we're left coasting along to the bland climax whose only merit is bringing things to a merciful conclusion.

While I suppose Where the Money Is can work as a cautionary note (no actor, no matter how talented, can transcend drivel), that's no reason to fork over $7.50 for it. Sallow, milquetoast and workmanlike to a fault, it lacks even the barest hints of engaging entertainment. Where the Money Is isn't truly bad in that it doesn't explode in a colossal ball the way the real turkeys do, but in some ways, I wish it had. At least then there would have been something to watch.

Review published 04.21.2000.

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