"Where the Money Is" has a cheerful, lighthearted personality that should win friends and influence moviegoers into spreading the word: Paul Newman's got a new caper movie, and it's a hoot.
Playing an aging bank robber in the Willie Sutton mode, Newman is not only in top acting form but exudes enough sexual charisma to put most of today's roster of movie heartthrobs to shame.
Where the money will have to go, though, is into marketing this small-scale film left over from the Gramercy Pictures days. If Universal and USA Films succeed in getting adults into theaters, then word-of-mouth should turn "Money" into a modest moneymaker.
Newman may be the best reason to see this comic caper but not the only one. There's stylish work by Linda Fiorentino and Dermot Mulroney as Newman's co-conspirators; a lively, witty screenplay by E. Max Frye and Topper Lilien & Carroll Cartwright; fast-paced yet subtle direction by Marek Kanievska; and sharp cinematography and production design.
As the story gets under way, it's clear that Newman's Henry Manning and Fiorentino's Carol Ann McKay are cut from the same cloth. He's a once-(in)famous bank robber, locked up nearly for the rest of his natural life, who figures he might as well "break out" of prison by feigning a stroke. She's an ex-prom queen who has grown weary of her stale life with husband Wayne (Mulroney), a high school sweetheart gone sour in the grind of a night-shift job.
When Henry arrives at the nursing home where Carol works, her instincts tell her he's faking his illness. Once she coaxes him out of his coma -- by pushing him into a lake -- she talks him into committing a robbery of their own. Almost as an afterthought, she includes her suddenly jealous hubby in the scheme.
The script, based on Frye's story, has the smarts to concentrate more on the characters than their caper. The mechanics of the heist, in which the trio take over an armored car's nighttime pickup schedule, are simple enough. This is certainly no high-tech crime such as those in "Entrapment", which were more baffling than intriguing.
The focus remains instead on the shifting dynamics among the triangle of characters, where Henry and Carol find that their views on life and larceny dovetail neatly, leaving Carol's soporific husband a definite odd man out.
The three actors attack their roles like hungry men at a banquet. Newman can do more with his eyes than most actors do with their entire bodies. One senses Henry's mental machinery ticking away at high speeds. Even in repose, there is no repose.
Fiorentino also lets the subtle turmoil of devious thoughts play across her face. Whether looking for ways to "arouse" the supposedly brain-damaged Henry or trying to plot the perfect crime, her methodical approach -- if that doesn't work, let's try this -- jives nicely with Henry's instinctual grasp of any situation.
Mulroney, on the other hand, can suggest blankness of reflection and ambition with deadpan hilarity. His varied looks of bewilderment make a perfect contrast to the personas of his cunning conspirators.
British director Kanievska, shooting in Montreal, skillfully evokes the atmosphere of small-town Americana. Designer Andre Chamberland and cinematographer Thomas Burstyn give this environment an unusually fanciful look, emphasizing saturated hues in the nursing home and vivid colors during the nighttime heist.
Despite the grit of its semi-rural setting, Kanievska never lets his movie escape its fantasy world. Even the old-age home is handled with much more humor than other Hollywood movies would ever permit.
"Where the Money Is" treats crime as its own life force and Newman's character as one of its most passionate practitioners.
WHERE THE MONEY IS
Gramercy Pictures presents in association with Intermedia Films and Pacifica Film Distribution
a Scott Free/IMF production
Credits: Producers: Ridley Scott, Charles Weinstock, Chris Zarpas, Christopher Dorr; Director: Marek Kanievska; Screenwriters: E. Max Frye, Topper Lilien, Carroll Cartwright; Story by: E. Max Frye; Executive producers: Tony Scott, Guy East, Nigel Sinclair, Chris Sievernich; Director of photography: Thomas Burstyn; Production designer: Andre Chamberland; Music: Mark Isham; Co-producers: Beau E.L. Marks, Robert E. Norton; Costume designer: Francesca Chamberland; Editors: Sam Craven, Garth Graven, Dan Lebental. Cast: Henry: Paul Newman; Carol: Linda Fiorentino; Wayne: Dermot Mulroney; Mrs. Foster: Susan Barnes; Mrs. Tetlow: Anne Pitonaik; Karl: Bruce MacVittie. MPAA rating: PG-13. Color/stereo. Running time -- 89 minutes.
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