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Funny Money

Still trying to play the leading man, Newman's best - when he's acting his age

 Where the Money Is is the latest attempt at a geezer vehicle -- in this case, for Paul Newman. Despite his unassailable movie star credentials and his still handsome mug, Newman is faced with the inevitable dilemma of the graying leading man: either make a film that appeals only to other oldsters, step down to lesser parts, or risk looking ridiculous by continuing to play romantic leads. In recent years Newman has gracefully taken the middle role, playing supporting characters (Hudsucker Proxy) or even the love interest's father (Message in a Bottle).

At first, Where the Money Is appears to resemble another recent geezer vehicle: Kirk Douglas's Diamonds. Both involve an old man who has a stroke and then sets out to reclaim a lost stash. But that's where the similarities end. While Diamonds was essentially a sentimental family tale, this one is a lightweight by-the-numbers caper film that tries to have it every which way, acknowledging Newman's years, while suggesting that he still can attract women roughly half his age.

The star plays Henry, an over-the-hill bank robber serving a long stretch in prison. When Henry has a debilitating stroke and the prison hospital is overcrowded, he is shipped off to private convalescent home. He seems to be a total vegetable, unresponsive to anything. But nurse Carol (Linda Fiorentino) begins to suspect that Henry's not quite as bad off as he seems. In fact, she begins to suspect that he's faking. She tries being sultry and seductive; she tries making loud noises. But Henry doesn't even flinch. In a final test that defies credibility, she manages to force Henry into action. She was right all along: Having studied yoga, Zen detachment and self-hypnosis in the prison library, Henry has been faking. His plan is to escape the no-security facility and reclaim his share of the proceeds from his last job, which constitutes more than enough money to get out of the country and assume a new identity. Of course, something got screwed up: The money is gone, leaving Henry without a plan.

The Newman-Fiorentino Affair: When not planning a heist, the two actors make eyes at each other.
Michel Gauthier
The Newman-Fiorentino Affair: When not planning a heist, the two actors make eyes at each other.

Details

Rated PG-13.

Luckily Carol has a few plans of her own. Bored to tears by her job, her life and her husband, Wayne (Dermot Mulroney), she is energized by the presence of an honest-to-God bank robber. She convinces a skeptical but desperate Henry to go in with her on an armored-car heist. They have to let Wayne in on the deal, which creates a new set of problems: Henry may be old enough to be Wayne's grandfather, but Wayne is still jealous of the attention Carol gives Henry. And, as it develops, probably not without cause.

Where the Money Is slips by quickly enough, but it never engages our interest more than passingly. It's another placeholder in the stalled career of British director Marek Kanievska, who made a fine debut in 1984 with Another Country and promptly slid downhill with Less Than Zero (1987); this is his first feature since.

It's hard to know whether to blame the movie's failings on Kanievska or the screenwriters. Nobody involved seems to have the requisite touch for a heist film. There is only minimal suspense, and the spirit of the affair seems sodden. Mulroney's character is such a pill that he drags the energy level down every time he's on screen. The mechanics of the caper itself aren't particularly inventive, and it takes two-thirds of the movie to get there. Meanwhile, time is wasted with such padding as a precredit sequence that is pointlessly in black and white.

All we're left with is Newman's charisma and Fiorentino's sexiness. Together, they're enough to raise the level of the experience to merely tolerable. And it's impossible not to keep noticing the age disparity between the two leads. It seemed like a big deal in Twilight that Newman was cast opposite "older" women -- Susan Sarandon and Stockard Channing -- who were only two-thirds as old as he was. That Fiorentino is only a few years north of half his age might not have been so distracting if there had been anything else memorable or diverting in the whole enterprise.

 
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