Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Where the Money Is

By Marc Savlov

APRIL 17, 2000: 

D: Marek Kanievska; with Paul Newman, Linda Fiorentino, Dermot Mulroney, Susan Barnes, Frankie Faison. (PG-13, 89 min.)

Given the enormous success of his "Newman's Own" line of eco-friendly comestibles, I was concerned that Paul Newman might have finally given up the acting gig entirely. When a man is able to market something called Fat-Free Fig Newman's and get away with it, well, he's certainly entitled to do whatever he pleases. Legends on a par with Newman don't go quite so quietly into the green bower, it appears. The man who once raced Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise, and Marty Feldman around a nursing home while in a turbo-charged wheelchair (Silent Movie) is up to his old tricks, and although his character is once again in a wheelchair, all is not as it seems. (This is what happens, I suppose, when Linda Fiorentino is your RN.) Newman plays Henry Manning, a convicted bank-robber who is sent to convalesce in a nursing home in the wake of both a stroke and prison overcrowding. He appears in the snowy gloom a figure of defeat ­ while the aged ladies' tongues cluck over this new arrival ("He's a convict!" one squeals in equal parts delight and terror), his nurse, Carol McKay (Fiorentino) keeps a close eye on him, wondering what brought this sorry, left-leaning man to her care. The story, repeated by Carol to her can't-be-bothered husband Wayne (Mulroney), is that Henry was in the midst of the heist of the century when a power failure caused a bank-vault door to swing shut and lock behind him, trapping him ­ where the money was ­ until the guards arrived the next morning. It's a cute backstory, and it fits nicely with Henry's present sad state of affairs ­ the downturned mouth, the vapid, shuttered gaze. He's old Butch Cassidy, alive to see another day, though not a good one. Carol, of course, smells something rotten that is not the soiled bedding around her. I'm giving nothing away when I say that Henry is playing possum, though it takes a full-frontal assault (complete with lap dance) from Fiorentino's Carol to rouse him from his act. Once awakened, the film begins to stagger under the weight of its own silly conceit, namely, that Carol means to save her flagging romance by staging an armored-car robbery with Henry. She's so fed up with her beau's tedious lack of passion that she decides to invent some on her own, and drags the protesting Henry along for the ride and expertise. There's an aura of Bonnie and Clyde in the way Carol equates the risk of physical harm and illegality with bedroom success, and, more interestingly, the film's penultimate scene lifts a page from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, though not so heavily as to smart. Ultimately a fluffy bit of caper-noir, the success of Where the Money Is rests heavily with Old Blue Eyes. He still has it, in spades, and Newman manages to make this slightly underwritten character work for him (and us). Tottering in his wheelchair, deep in the midst of a faux-stroke, he's as wily a cat as you're likely to find ­ those icy blues sparkle with barely contained merriment. He makes remarkable the most minor throwaway scenes, and even the edgy, estrogen-fueled bombast of Fiorentino is of little interest when Newman is onscreen. For Ma and Pa Newman, the real money may be in organically grown noshes these days, but Newman's own peculiar pull is as powerful as ever. Something to be thankful for in a world full of Dermot Mulroneys, I'd say.

3 Stars

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