[Screen It]

"WHERE THE MONEY IS"
(2000) (Paul Newman, Linda Fiorentino) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama/Comedy: Transferred from prison to a nursing home after faking the aftereffects of a stroke, a former bank robber reluctantly joins forces with his nurse who uncovers his ruse and wants to become his new criminal partner.
PLOT:
Henry Manning (PAUL NEWMAN), a convicted bank robber, has just been transferred from prison to a nursing home after apparently suffering a stroke. Seemingly near paralyzed and catatonic, Henry is no longer deemed a threat to society and thus is introduced to the other residents of the home.

Despite most evidence to the contrary, nurse Carol Ann McKay (LINDA FIORENTINO) becomes suspicious that Henry might be faking his condition. Besides, she doesn't have much else to hold her interest. Her marriage to husband Wayne (DERMOT MULRONEY) has hit the doldrums and they barely see each due to him working the nightshift, and about the only excitement at work comes from the repeated requests by Karl (BRUCE MACVITTIE), a less than reputable male nurse, who repeatedly invites her for rides on his motorcycle.

Fascinated by Henry's prior escapades and spurred by little hints that he may be carrying out an elaborate and effective ruse, Carol sets out to prove just that. She eventually succeeds, but instead of turning him in to the authorities, she suggests that the two of them become partners in knocking off banks. Henry can't believe his fortune of being discovered by and offered a partnership with a completely green criminal, but Carol eventually convinces him that she could be helpful.

As the two plan their big heist, they must not only contend with the logistics of the crime, but also that of Wayne's reaction to their plan, the fact that they have to keep posing him as a stroke victim, and the possibility that Henry might be transferred back to prison at any moment.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
In today's world of Internet billionaires and media mergers, the romanticized notion of bank robberies and, naturally, bank robbers has become blasť and something associated only with the past. Sure, bank robberies still occur, but such thieves are anonymous thugs with no well-known identities, let alone personalities to fascinate the masses, and their exploits barely make the news in today's fast paced world.

Of course, none of that's meant to imply that what they did was right and obviously many of yesteryear's bank robbers were the thugs of their times with violence and murder often following the trail of their heists. Yet, for whatever reason, the bank robbers of the Old West and the roaring '20s will forever be romanticized in the public's eye and collective psyche.

Even so, with the contemporary demise and subsequent absence of such notions, the related and often highly entertaining crime caper films have also disappeared. Thus, that explains the natural interest in whether this week's release of "Where the Money Is" will rekindle the genre or at least play well within it. While unlikely to do the former and only moderately successful at the latter, the film is a throwback to the films of the '70s and back when bank robbers usually used charm and wits more than violence to achieve their goals and thus offset, at least to some degree, their criminal exploits.

The film is also notable for returning screen icon and legend Paul Newman to the sort of character he blazed upon the silver screen in films such as 1969's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting" from 1973. Now I'll readily admit that I'd easily watch most anything in which Newman appeared. Heck, he'd probably even make a film about reading the classifieds into something special due to the way in which he infuses his characters with witty wisdom and boatloads of charm. As such, he's what makes this film easy to watch and his presence certainly helps counter and even partially makes its many problems more forgivable.

Written by E. Max Frye ("Palmetto," "Something Wild") and Topper Lilien & Carroll Cartwright (this being their first produced screenwriting credit) and directed by Marek Kanievska ("Less Than Zero," "Another Country") who hasn't helmed a major feature in thirteen years, the film comes off like any of those low-budget crime capers from the 1970s where characters were often more important than plot.

That's certainly the case here. While the film starts off in a fun and amusing fashion - Newman's bank robber character is posing as a stroke victim to get moved from prison to a less restrictive nursing home setting where a nurse is determined to prove he's faking it - the ensuing plot development leaves a bit to be desired.

As such, the story simply follows the standard trajectory where a dead end character sees a way out of her boring life through a legendary criminal. Not surprisingly, the two eventually team up, not to pull a bank robbery, but instead an armored car heist. That's all fine and good if the proper motivations and story structure are in place and then executed. Unfortunately, they're either absent or just barely developed here.

For instance, we never know what Henry's goal is beyond his staged affliction, and that steals a lot of thunder from his character. Nor do we know why he so easily adopts Carol as his partner in crime. While some superficial moments are present supposedly to cover that element, they're not particularly credible. A single scene, that would have killed two birds with one stone - so to speak - could have had Carol reading Henry's rap sheet (while trying to draw him out of his staged shell) and then lamenting over her boring and/or dead end life. He obviously would have noted her dismay and thus felt more inclined to help her. Some of that's there later on, but it's not delivered in a way that's believable.

Of course, she and her less than ambitious husband easily could have opted instead to blackmail Henry into taking them on as partners lest they turn him back in to the authorities. Anything would have been better than her convincing him by simply using her feminine wiles to get a promotional toaster from a banker or simply being noted as a good observer of people. As it stands, she doesn't have to pay many dues and her manner of convincing Henry to accept her - and then her husband - isn't particularly clever, inventive or interesting, although that holds true for most of the film.

Since their eventual plan isn't terribly complicated or intriguing, I kept waiting for Henry to make them pull off a small heist to prove their worth. That not only would have alleviated some motivational problems, but it also could have provided for a fun and even possibly amusing scene where they just barely manage to succeed and impress the seasoned pro. There was also some hope that the three would start double-crossing the others, switching allegiances or at least alternate in having the upper hand of the plan, but alas, none of that happens either.

While Paul Newman ("Message in a Bottle," "Nobody's Fool") does the best with his character as it's written, it would have been interesting to have him playing more off his age and thinking and/or complaining that he's too old for such foolishness anymore. Although I suppose that's the prerogative of such a screen legend to maintain his larger than life persona, Newman hasn't completely downplayed his age in other recent roles and such an approach might have benefited his performance and the film.

Meanwhile, Linda Fiorentino ("Men in Black," "The Last Seduction") is enjoyable in her role, although her opportunities for really getting into her character essentially dry up after the fun introductory moments of her trying to lure and/or force Henry out of his contrived shell. Dermot Mulroney ("Goodbye Lover," "My Best Friend's Wedding") completes the criminal triangle, although his character is the least developed of the three and suffers from similar motivational problems (especially his agreement to participate in their plan).

Although Newman's presence makes the film easy enough to watch and it does have a touch of old-fashioned charm to it, the picture simply isn't that inventive or clever in the way in which it develops after the fun set-up has been completed. Lacking much in the way of plot complications or credible character motivation, the film may have a few decent moments - particularly in the first act - but simply doesn't amount to much in the end.

Despite a tag-on ending that provides a feel good conclusion, it's too little and too late for this film that ultimately feels like one of those mediocre and ultimately forgettable flicks from yesteryear. If I could remember the title of one for comparison I'd name it, but unfortunately, I can't and I'm afraid that's how most people will think about this film in the not so distant future. As such, "Where the Money Is" rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed April 7, 2000 / Posted April 14, 2000


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