Does Crime Really Pay? 

Don't waste your time or cash on Mad Money

Mad Money (PG-13)

Directed by Callie Khouri

Stars Diane Keaton, Katie Holmes, Queen Latifah

Opens Friday at Edwards 9 and Edwards 21

Mad Money is a misguided, uneven farce in which the intelligence of the characters doesn't fit the idiocy of their actions. For example, down-on-her-luck Bridget (Diane Keaton) is smart enough to devise a plan to steal money from a Federal Reserve Bank, but then dumb and greedy enough to purchase a $62,000 diamond ring and wear it to the bank.

When people are this stupid, they deserve to get caught. And while you may like her just enough to not want her to go to jail, it becomes hard to root for her or her cohorts (Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes) when they don't have the sense to quit when they're ahead.

Bridget, Nina (Latifah) and Jackie (Holmes) are from different walks of life, but their jobs at the bank make them perfect co-conspirators. The plan is ingenious: Jackie pushes carts full of worn and now unusable money that's to be shredded. Before entering the shredding room, she stops in front of a garbage can and covertly deposits three or four handfuls of cash into the trash. She then proceeds to the shredding room, where she and Nina do some trick-eration with the lock and Nina verifies that all the cash has been destroyed. Meanwhile, janitor Bridget picks up the lucrative garbage, and the three soon convene in the ladies' room to divvy up the dollars.

Soon their respective male counterparts (Ted Danson, Roger Cross of 24 and Adam Rothenberg) also work into the mix, and even though they know they should stop, greed takes over and no one has the sense to let it go. The guys contribute by lending stability and some nice one-liners, but only TV veteran Danson (Cheers, Becker) earns consistent laughs.

Not helping matters is director Callie Khouri's (who won Best Original Screenplay for Thelma and Louise) decision to start at the end of the story with the girls getting caught, and then try to convince us they can get away with it. Time and again (remember Michael Clayton?), this structure does nothing but ruin suspense, and yet everyone seems to think they have the next American Beauty on their hands.

This isn't American Beauty—not even close. But the ladies are likeable working-class women just trying to get ahead, and they all certainly need the money. Too bad Glenn Gers' script is lifeless and the actors fail to provide the energy needed to make it the feel-good charmer it aspires to be. Keaton is especially disappointing. Once such a gifted comic (Annie Hall), she's now resorted to silly schlock like this and Because I Said So to keep her career afloat. Both she and her fans deserve better.

Mad Money hardly warrants any sort of deep analysis, but consider the message here: workingclass women can only get ahead by stealing. It's hardly inspiring, truthful, relevant or amusing. In fact, it's downright disrespectful to hardworking women everywhere. But then, this is a comedy and not meant to be taken seriously. Better to label the movie flat and unfunny and call it a day.

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