where the writers are
Mad Money

a film review
by Jeanne Powell 
(c) 2008 available on dvd

In bringing “Mad Money” to the screen, director Callie Khouri gives us a script based on a true story. Knowing that this landmark heist happened in England, and that it was pulled off by three women in working-class jobs, armed only with their wits, is a delight to savor. 

Diane Keaton is a suburban matron accustomed to a very good life until her husband, Ted Danson, loses his prestigious position and remains unemployed as the months go by. She is amazed to discover they are some $260,000 in debt and their mansion is about to go on the market. When her personal check to pay the housekeeper bounces, Keaton tries to pay the exasperated woman with a silver-plated water pitcher.

Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes already are employed as janitors at the Federal Reserve Bank when socialite Keaton is hired as their co-worker, the only job with health insurance she could find.

Latifah is a dedicated single mom raising two young sons in the best job available. This turn is 180 degrees from Latifah’s last film venture as a bandit, “Set It Off,” directed by Gary Gray (1996). In the earlier movie, Latifah starts robbing banks with two other underpaid housekeepers, but their provocative adventure ends in a bloody shootout with police.

Holmes plays a diabetic with daffy ways, who loves to listen to rock and roll throughout her shift at the Federal Reserve Bank. Earbuds firmly in place, she dances through the parking lot on her way to work. Holmes is carefree in this film, playing a part quite different from her traumatized character in Joel Schumacher’s "Phone Booth" (2002).

Security is everywhere at the bank, and everything is done by the book. The lives of Keaton, Latifah and Holmes are not nearly so secure. Flexibility and creativity govern their existence as they reinvent their lives in a time of great financial inequity. Their interactions with each other, their employer and the men in their lives are authentic and funny.

One of the highlights in Keaton’s comedic moments on film will be the scene where the bank manager sweats under the stony gaze of federal cops and attorneys, unwilling to admit the possibility that anything actually happened on his watch. He stares through a glass partition at an elegantly dressed Keaton, who uses her animated body language to convey, “you can’t touch this!”

Lots of twists and turns in this thoroughly enjoyable caper film. “Mad Money” is intriguing in its focus on nonviolent felonies requiring creativity, and the possible inevitability of such crimes during times of significant social injustice. Plenty of laughter and surprises here, especially for those who appreciate life’s ironies. And a classic rock and roll soundtrack!