The Romance of Danger
Well, I’ll tell you where the money isn’t. It isn’t in wonderfully old-fashioned, grown-up little comedies like Where the Money Is. I hope I’m wrong — I hope this one does nicely at the box office, because I’m selfish enough to want to see more movies like this. But let’s face it: it has no horny teenagers, no nudity, only some brief suggestions of sex, no violence, and no foul language. Worse, it’s clever, smart, and underplayed. It’s doomed.
What Where the Money Is does have, in spades, is chemistry. Paul Newman — looking damn good for, what is he, 100? — and Linda Fiorentino sparkle together, and it’s not that icky, generational-spanning sexual chemistry than Hollywood is constantly trying to foist off on us. It’s more a pally relationship with just a hint of sex underneath it — together the avuncular Newman and the wisecracking Fiorentino evoke the squabbling but devoted duets of the screwball comedies of the 1930 and 40s.
The film as a whole, actually, manages to summon up warm memories of movies past while simultaneously not feeling like anything we’ve seen all that often before. The story is simple but fresh. It took the cops 30 years to catch infamous bank robber Henry Manning (Paul Newman: Message in a Bottle, The Sting), and then only by a fluke, but now he seems doomed to spend the remainder of his life in prison, where a stroke has rendered him a vegetable. Transferred temporarily to the Oregon nursing home where Carol Ann McKay (Linda Fiorentino: Dogma, Men in Black) works as an attendant, he lies in bed or slumps in his wheelchair in the bingo room, uncommunicative and unresponsive. Odd things happen around Henry, though, and Carol begins to suspect that all he needs is the right encouragement to awaken him from his deep sleep. The approaches she takes might not be the kinds you learn in nursing school, but they work.
It’s hardly spoiling anything to reveal that Newman– I mean, Henry, is just as spry as can be — there wouldn’t be much of a movie if he was in a coma throughout. In fact, Henry was faking, one last con, or so he thought, after a lifetime of them. But by now Carol — the former prom queen bored with her humdrum life and her humdrum hubby, former prom king Wayne (Dermot Mulroney: My Best Friend’s Wedding) — has fallen in love with the idea of bank robbery, and coaxes Henry into planning and pulling one more heist.
It’s rare, and fairly daring in this era of rampant political correctness, for a film to conjure up the bygone romance of nonviolent thievery and celebrate the cleverness of its practitioners. Or maybe it’s not that it’s rare but that most Hollywood attempts to do so are so poorly executed or too fantastical to take seriously. Where the Money Is feels precariously grounded in reality, though, and that’s due completely to Newman and Fiorentino, both actors who are so comfortable in their own skins and so unpretentious that it’s easy to imagine sitting down for a beer with them. They suck you right into cheering on their bad deeds, and not even feeling guilty about it.
Though it revels in the thrill of the criminal, Where the Money Is doesn’t totally ignore the sexual danger inherent in the characters of Henry and Carol, and manages to acknowledge it more honestly than other films, which try to sneak age-defying casting past us, hoping we won’t notice or won’t care that the leading man was eligible for early retirement while his leading lady was still in pigtails. It would be impossible to ignore Newman’s appeal, so the film doesn’t: Enjoying his newfound freedom during a sneaked field trip from the nursing home, Henry takes Carol for a spin on a roadhouse dance floor, though he tells her people will wonder why she’s dancing with her great- great- great- great- grandfather. She rolls her eyes and replies, “I’d never dance with him,” and the intonation in her voice says it all: a gal only has to look at Newman to see what a sexy old dude he is, even if he’s way too old for her.
That kind of flirting with slightly antisocial behavior is what makes this droll little flick so delicious.