Mad Money

Mad Money. Millennium Films 2008.

Before watching the movie:

I barely remember this title floating around back in 2008, and I’m not sure if I remember it as a movie or just as the quirky stock trading show. I think I’ve also conflated it a little bit with Moneyball, which it has no connection with aside from the word “money”.

This looks like a movie that’s a little ahead of its time. Regrettably, the industry didn’t seem to have a foothold for women-led comedies until Bridesmaids. This all-women heist comedy didn’t make much of a splash, but ten years later Ocean’s Eight did very well doing basically the same thing.

I try not to read critical responses before watching the movie, but I skimmed a little to try to see if I just missed it somehow and along with a lot of general negativity, I saw a very charming comment from Roger Ebert about how “some girls will like it, the men not so much”. Which sounds like internet comment sections about every women-led movie even today. If the execution was bad, the execution was bad, but I wonder how much was just moviegoers in 2008 not getting it.

After watching the movie:

Bridget Cardigan’s husband Don got downsized right in the middle of the economic turndown. After a year of unemployment, they can no longer afford their upper middle class, empty-nester lifestyle. As Bridget has no skills and hasn’t worked in decades, the best job she can get is a janitorial position at the Kansas Federal Reserve Bank. At the bank, one of the areas she has to collect the trash from is the money-shredding room, where a million dollars of worn out bills get destroyed every day, and Bridget starts to wonder, is it really stealing if they’re getting rid of it anyway? Bridget works out a plan to smuggle bills out by swapping a lock on a cart while cleaning it, sneaking money out of the cart into a trash can, and swapping the lock back in the shredding room. In order to pull that off, she needs to recruit Nina the shredder, a single mother trying to put her children through private school, and Jackie the cart pusher, who lives in a trailer with her meat packer husband. Their scheme is successful, and though their initial plan is to only steal enough to get what they need, Bridget quickly wants more, and the gang has to grow in order to accommodate the sophistication of what they need to pull off.

Maybe in 2008, crushing financial difficulty was too close to home to reckon with at the level this movie does. Or at least, it was too fresh a wound. I felt it was one of the strongest parts of the story. Usually the stakes that start a heist story don’t feel so desperate as being unemployed and out of benefits for a year and $600K in debt or as visceral as a single working mother trying to ensure her children’s future. It’s often just a bunch of criminals that find pulling off a big haul a few times a year preferable to working for a living, or gambling debts being collected at gunpoint. Offhand, the only other example of such relatable motivations I can think of is How to Beat the High Cost of Living.

At times, the plot gets a little lost and the comedy and the characters suffer for it. There are two or three places in the story where it felt like it was about to end, but then kept going. The pacing is my only real difficulty with this movie, and it’s only in a few isolated places. Is it implausible that stealing money from one of the highest-security banks in the country could be so easy? A little, but no moreso than any other modern bank heist plot. They even use the Stalag 13 Defense at one point. There’s a perfect record to maintain, so clearly there couldn’t have been any goings-on that might blemish that record, right?

As a high-stakes comedy with a low-tech heist, I can see that it might be a hard sell. But I cannot reconcile the negativity I’ve read about with the film that I saw. Jackie may be less plot-critical than Bridget and Nina, but she’s a fine comic relief character, which is important in a comedy. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Katie Holmes actually acting instead of just being Tom Cruise’s Scientology widow. I have a hard time believing that people would have been so down on this movie if it was about three men rather than just shrug it off as a bit uneven. It’s hard to paint a picture of economic hardship and have fun taking money out of The Man’s pocket at the same time, and this almost accomplishes that. It just could’ve stood to get tightened up a little in the edit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.