Mad Money - 27 Dresses

Written by on January 27th, 2008

And then his publicist said he wanted to marry me!

Maybe, just maybe, there are a few of you who’ve glimpsed the trailer for Callie Khouri’s latest film and thought, Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, and Katie Holmes, together at last! For everybody else, Mad Money is marked, bearing all the signs of a typical—read: terrible—January release.

It’s a buddy comedy, only the odd couple is now a trio. It’s a heist flick with implicit wackiness. It’s got Keaton, who’s yet to rid herself of the stench of her contribution to last year’s winter dreck, Because I Said So. And she plays…a janitor. Someone fire the casting director, please.

But though the sight of Annie Hall in custodian’s clothes never quite feels right—her hair is too flippy, her glasses too fashionable—Mad Money’s setup is slightly more believable. Bridget (Keaton) is living a comfortable upper-middle-class life when her husband, Don (Ted Danson), is downsized from the corporate job that’s kept her not only well-accessorized but occupationally sheltered.

They’re about to lose their house when Bridget, who apparently never even had to work at the DQ while studying for her English degree, takes a job cleaning toilets at the Federal Reserve. Her boss (Stephen Root) makes sure Bridget understands that each employee, constantly surrounded by cash, is watched every minute of the day, and that there’s never been a robbery in the branch’s history because it’s impossible.

Not for Bridget! During a fateful trip to Home Depot, she realizes that the megastore sells the same lock the feds use to secure the carts of worn-out bills they destroy daily. (Yeah, it’s a standard keyed padlock, bustable by any 4-year-old having a Tonka tantrum.)

After a few months studying the system and weeding out potential accomplices (i.e.: not the dude who wants to turn in a found $20), Bridget approaches Nina (Latifah), the devoted single mom who shreds the cash, and Jackie (Holmes), the spacey free spirit who transports the money, and persuades them to help her pull off the perfect crime. “It’s like recycling!” Bridget reasons.

It’s surprising that Mad Money, adapted by Glenn Gers from a British TV movie, isn’t quite the disastrous bumbling-broads caper it promises to become. Granted, Khouri (whose previous project for theatrical release was writing and directing 2002’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) and Gers ask you to swallow a lot besides the idea that thousands of dollars is secured with a dollar-store lock.

The women, for instance, have a fondness for the bank’s handicapped stalls, gathering there to giggle loudly with fistfuls of cash or regroup when there’s a hitch in their plans. Everyone who becomes privy to their crime, including Don and a security guard (Roger Cross), puts up way-too-mild resistance before happily going along with it.

Most irritating, though, is Holmes’ character, who with her headphones and continuous grooving is supposed to seem an anything-goes type but instead is simply a brow-furrowing, eye-widening dipshit who responds to suggestions that they don’t do anything stupid with, “Oh, man, I hate being smart!”

Keaton and Latifah, however, lend enough intelligence, wit, and charm to Bridget and Nina that Mad Money more often feels like an ovarian Ocean’s Eleven. The execution of a well-crafted heist is always fun to watch, and the filmmakers wisely keep pratfalls and one-liners to a minimum. There’s even an attempt at a message beyond thou-shalt-not-steal, with barbs aimed at advertising and our consumer culture.

Or are they justifications? Admittedly, between the film’s ending and scenes such as Nina’s earnest explanation, accompanied by tinkly music, that “what happened is we found a way to get what we wanted,” Mad Money isn’t as concerned with ethics as it is with having a good time. And anything the boys can do—well, the girls haven’t exactly done it better, but they’ve at least risen above expectations.

27 Dresses; 27,000 movies exactly like it

Sometimes you watch a movie and feel as if you completely understand a character. Take 27 Dresses’ Kevin (James Marsden), a down-with-love journalist at a New York City newspaper who’s stuck in wedding-reporter hell. “If I have to write about baby’s breath one more time,” he says, “I’m going to shoot myself.”

He’s got his eyes on his first lifestyle feature: a poor soul named Jane (Katherine Heigl) who’s always the bridesmaid, etc. Kevin flirts with Jane, hoping she’ll be willing to tell him about the 27 times she’s been bridesided, but as he gets to know her, a juicier story comes along involving Jane’s little sister (Malin Akerman) and the man of Jane’s dreams.

Duplicities and hate-you-love-you shenanigans ensue—and if I have to write about insipid romantic comedies one more time, well, I know how Kevin feels. 27 Dresses is being presented as date-movie gold (albeit in January), starring two budding Cameron Diazes, Knocked Up’s freshly queened Heigl and The Heartbreak Kid’s less-proven but still blonde ’n’ klutzy Akerman, along with Marsden, who had a stellar 2007 with genuinely funny turns in Hairspray and Enchanted. It was written by Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada) , for cryin’ out loud. But the result is a closet full of tired, bursting with characters, dynamics, and perspectives that went out of fashion many films ago.

Jane, for starters, is perfect but single, always doing unto others whether it’s to accompany her friends down the aisle or fetch a breakfast burrito for her boss, George (Edward Burns). (You can tell she’s a saint, because Heigl’s hair is dyed a mousy auburn.) The following words apply to Jane: selfless, pushover, romantic.

After receiving flowers from an anonymous admirer, she steels herself to put the moves on George when her sister, Tess (Akerman), meeting Jane at a company party, gets to him first. The following words apply to Tess: shallow, deceitful, bratty. George and Tess fall in love, with her proclaiming that she’s as much a nature lover as he is. (“I like yachts…and tanning,” she tells a tsk-tsking Jane.) They’re going to get married. Will Jane plan the wedding?

Of course, such a torch-carrying story requires that Mr. Perfect be right under the main character’s nose, and that’s where Kevin comes in. He and Jane fight and fight and fight until they don’t. Then they fight a little more—when it’s discovered the journalist has been acting less than ­ethically—but really, it’s all as dull as Heigl’s locks. So is Judy Greer, who’s thanklessly relegated to the slutty-best-friend role.

Heigl at least manages a few nice comic moments here—and, to be fair, a couple of McKenna’s lines may elicit a chuckle. But there’s no overcoming the movie’s broad strokes—particularly its central idea that being single (while your little sister gets hitched, gasp!) is some sort of handicap. Worse, Jane’s grand comeuppance is not the triumphant stand it should be but an act as ugly and ridiculous as all the taffeta in her wardrobe.

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