The great French film star Catherine Deneuve once told me in an interview that she had no interest in working in the United States because Hollywood loves girls but has no idea what to do with women. Proving her point is the dreadful “Mad Money,” the second comedy in a row — on the heels of last year’s embarrassing “Because I Said So” — to waste the prodigious comedic talents of Diane Keaton.
Perhaps even more shocking is that this mediocre time-filler of a heist comedy comes from director Callie Khouri, writer of “Thelma & Louise,” one of the cinema’s greatest lady-outlaw movies. But the gap between that 1991 classic and “Mad Money” resembles the abyss that Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis drove into in Khouri’s earlier hit.
Keaton stars as Bridget, a well-to-do woman whose upper-class lifestyle is threatened when husband Don (Ted Danson) gets downsized and can’t find a new job. Desperate, Bridget takes a job as janitor at a Federal Reserve Bank where old cash is destroyed. Within just a few days on the job, she cooks up a scheme whereby she and two accomplices — shredding-machine operator Nina (Queen Latifah) and cart-transporter Jackie (Katie Holmes) — could sneak stacks of money out of the place without being detected.
The familiarity of the plot — “Mad Money” is a remake of a British TV movie which already sounds like a cross between “Who’s Minding the Mint?” and “Fun with Dick and Jane” — would be forgivable if screenwriter Glenn Gers showed any interest in jazzing up the proceedings with, say, interesting characters who had funny things to say. Instead, everyone has their one little through-line (Bridget wants to be well-off again, Nina wants to afford a good school for her kids, Jackie is wacky) that they stick to all the way through.
The fact that the film begins with most of the characters getting arrested and then telling the entire movie in flashback strips away any suspense we might have over whether or not these thick thieves are going to get caught. Also not helping matters is the oppressively dreary and ugly cinematography by the usually talented John Bailey.
Keaton provides one of the film’s few laughs early on, when Bridget is trying to talk Nina into participating in her scheme — Nina: “I don’t want things I can’t have.” Bridget: “Do you live in America?” — but the movie thoroughly wastes her talents. Given how delightful she was as an unlikely sleuth in Woody Allen’s “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” it’s a pity that this movie can’t make more of her journey from lady-who-lunches to floor-scrubber to criminal mastermind.
Queen Latifah isn’t called on to do much more than to be brassy and no-nonsense, and Holmes’s ditz character comes off sketchy, as if she was treated as an afterthought in the editing room. She does, at least, gets one of the few other laughs when she talks about her desire to see Czechoslovakia, only to be informed by Danson that there hasn’t been one since 1992.
Sadly, it’s also been about that long since Callie Khouri has been involved in a good movie.