With the paucity of roles for women in Hollywood films these days, it’s a shame the minds behind the high-concept heist film Mad Money couldn’t use the talents of Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, and Katie Holmes to greater advantage. The movie is mildly entertaining, but there’s not enough humor to make it screwball and not enough conflict to make it interesting.
Keaton plays Bridget Cardigan, a Kansas City woman whose affluent lifestyle is threatened when her downsized husband Don (Ted Danson) can’t find a new job. Thrust back into the workforce after many years away, Bridget gets hired as a janitor at the Federal Reserve Bank. Bridget - who’s clueless enough about money to have been somehow unaware that her household is almost $300,000 in debt - within her first week on the job is nevertheless able to map out a scheme to rob the bank of old bills slated for destruction. She recruits co-workers Nina (Latifah) and Jackie (Holmes) as her accomplices, but neither one of these heretofore law-abiding ladies needs much persuading.
Although the movie’s being marketed like some kind of distaff Ocean’s Eleven, the opening scenes answer the question of whether the larcenous trio gets away with it, thereby eliminating the suspense needed for an effective crime caper film. What director Callie Khouri (who wrote the screenplay for Thelma and Louise) has concocted instead is a female buddy/empowerment flick. In the world of Mad Money, there’s honor among thieves, adversity that only strengthens relationships, and middle-aged women gain newfound confidence by masterminding a crime that stumps bank examiners, as well as the police. Meanwhile, ironies that could be truly delicious (Bridget, the affluent one in the group, pushes to keep up the scheme even after her debts are paid off; single mom Nina likes to lecture her sons about ethics) are barely capitalized on, and the predictably tidy surprise ending doesn’t inspire much emotion beyond a muffled “ho-hum.”