I don't mean to brag, but I've got a pretty good attention span.
Like, I read books. Sometimes more than one a year. My powers of concentration are so intense I once got to page 72 of Crime and Punishment, and nine years later when I decided to have another go at it, I made it all the way to page 17 before I took it to the back yard, got out my Hitting Stick, and clubbed it into pulp.
I'm even better with movies, and not just because I haven't yet figured out a way to make a stick long enough to reach a theater screen (though my recent research into nail technology looks promising -- fingers crossed). Moving pictures that tell a story are almost hypnotically compelling, and even when they're wholly and historically bad, they usually have a couple funny parts, or a vampire or something, or the ending's so wildly incomprehensible you get momentarily shocked into enlightenment, Zen-style.
It's the boring movies that get my goat. Once you're out of school, being bored is hard! All you have to do is think about boxing a kangaroo or someone eating a banana and wham, hilarious. A movie like Mad Money, then, with no limits other than its millionaire budget and the human imagination itself -- if that can't deliver the cinematic equivalent of a dude eating a banana, that's the mark of true failure.
When Ted Danson loses his white-collar job, he and wife Diane Keaton instantly find themselves nearly 300K in debt. They have a nice enough house, but as they're obviously close to retirement age and don't appear to have an ounce-a-day coke habit (unless Danson's secretly using it to bleach his hair), a yacht the size of the USS Intrepid, or a black hole localized in their basement that sucks down any cash that enters the house, it's a bit of a stretch to believe. But then, with Mad Money, you don't need to suspend belief so much as expel it, chain it up Hannibal Lector-style, then execute it and dump it in an unmarked grave.
To help steer them out of their dire financial straights, Keaton goes job-hunting and quickly finds she's qualified for nothing more than janitorial duty -- at the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, where every day a million dollars in soiled, used-up bills are destroyed.
Nobody's ever successfully stolen from the Reserve, but honest labor's chump stuff, so Keaton cooks up a scheme to rip the place off. Enlisting the help of two coworkers -- the scatterbrained Katie Holmes and initially resistant Queen Latifah -- they find a way to beat the security and steal enough to put them all on Easy Street. Soon, however, green-eyed greed rears its head. Why steal some money when you can steal a whole lot more money? The real crime would be not robbing the government of millions of dollars, wouldn't it? Surely their hubris will never catch up with them?
Meant to be a lighthearted heist movie, a bunch of clever shenanigans pulled off by a bunch of witty, off-kilter characters, Mad Money is none of the above. I can count to two, so I know how many times I laughed during it.
As for the robbery, it's a little hard to thrilled by its conception or its execution when everything Keaton would need to do to pull it off is explained to her by preening boss Stephen Root within minutes of her getting the job. What few details aren't covered there are filled in by a bizarre yet dull series of cuts where the criminals wax philosophical to someone off-camera about why they did what they did. The movie rarely works up any more momentum than a one-winged housefly, but if it ever threatens to become remotely interesting, you can be sure that'll be stopped short by a sudden jump to some doofus in a cell blathering on about how crime is contagious.
That is, whenever it can spare time from its busy schedule of stealing-montages, side-wipes, and bickering about whether they should take more money. It's not like there are any stakes here, either; oh sure, they might talk about going to prison, but with the exception of Latifah, all these characters are at best so psychotic they'd be sent to the crazy house and at worst such paper-thin sketches of real people they'd be able to slip right through the bars of any jail.
So you've got a bunch of mopes not funny enough to cheer for and not real enough to worry for (let alone believe the ludicrous and intrusive attempts to explain their motivations), a plot based on the assumption it's more fun to watch people sitting around arguing about a robbery than the robbery itself, and a script that's not just clumsy and uninspired, but so flabby you could cut 15-20 minutes without noticing they were gone. Put all that together and Mad Money could win a dragging contest with a tow truck. It's not a trainwreck or a war crime on celluloid, it's something worse: boring from front to back.