Money for Nothing
One of the biggest mistakes a movie adapted from a play can make involves leaving viewers wishing they'd seen it on stage. While some adaptations soar, others end up weighed down by an intense sense of staginess, the result of filmmakers sticking too closely to the theatrical format. That last bit describes Funny Money to a perfect tee. Watching this comedy, you can imagine it being a hilarious farce if performed live. Unfortunately, the movie fails to evoke much laughter.
Based on a hit by playwright Ray Cooney, Funny Money centers on Henry Perkins (Chevy Chase), one of the blandest human beings to walk the planet. His wife Carol (Penelope Ann Miller) bemoans his routine life and refusal to spice things up even the slightest bit. But a mishap on the subway home from work is about to change all that. Henry accidentally switches briefcases with a random stranger, and imagine his surprise when he opens it up to find $5 million in bonds and unmarked bills inside. While Henry's busy making last-minute vacation plans, the insanity is just beginning to brew. A dirty cop (Armand Assante) starts sniffing around after seeing Henry acting mighty suspicious. The Perkins' friends (Christopher McDonald and Alex Meneses) show up for Henry's birthday party, only to wind up having to impersonate non-existent relatives. Then there's the matter of the Romanian mobsters the cash-filled case belongs to, a group of thugs who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty in order to retrieve it.
Funny Money emerges as a textbook example of a Murphy's Law farce. Characters land themselves in whatever shenanigans possible; the story piles on one sticky situation after another; and instead of weaving all these threads into a zany comedic tapestry, director/co-writer Leslie Greif allows the plot to self-destruct from the pressure of about twenty subplots too many. The snowball effect Greif hopes for turns into an avalanche of cornball dialogue and over-the-top performances. I'm all for movies cutting loose and wreaking comedic havoc, but Funny Money takes things a few steps too far. This film definitely needed more discipline, perhaps from an outside force who could wrangle in all the characters and weed out the humorless filler.
Not only does Funny Money move too fast and exhaust the viewer with its endless supply of quirky personalities and compromising positions, there's also a blanket of blahness covering the entire production. Yes, it's a low-budget affair, but why not try harder to give the production a smoother sheen? As far as the acting goes, Chase is surprisingly right in tune with his character, knowing when to play things frantic and when to slow down, and McDonald does good work as Henry's buddy/inadvertent partner-in-crime. Miller, on the other hand, plays her part as broadly as humanly possible, and I couldn't understand half of Assante's dialogue.
Funny Money comes across as light-hearted and well-meaning enough, so casual viewers may be entertained by the film's rapid-fire spirit. However, more discerning movie buffs will probably not consider watching Funny Money to be time well-spent.
MY RATING: * 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by Starz/Anchor Bay and rated "R" for sex-related humor and some language.)