Funny Money (2007)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/08/07 20:27:43

"Just because you put 'funny' in the title doesn't make it so."
1 stars (Sucks)

If you think Chevy Chase has hit the rockiest of rock bottoms possible with such titles as “Karate Dog,” “Doogal,” and “Zoom,” I offer for your consideration “Funny Money,” a comedy so dreadful that “Snow Day” begins to look like the high point of the actor’s recent output.

It’s a cross between the John Cusack comedy “Money for Nothing” and the Sylvester Stallone irritation-fest “Oscar.” You see, Henry (Chase) accidentally picked up the wrong briefcase, one filled with four million bucks. And he figures it’s time to skip town pronto before the owners of the cash arrive. But wouldn’t ya know it, his wife is throwing him a surprise birthday party, and everyone’s stopping over just when he’s hoping to skedaddle. As more people find out about the cash, everyone begins trying to pull a switcheroo with matching briefcases, leaving folks wondering who’s got the dough.

As a play, one could imagine it working, heavy on the maybe. All the main action takes place in Henry’s home, where characters come and go with mounting frenzy, just like any other screwball farce. Of course, “just like any other screwball farce” is the key phrase here: there are no surprises to the surprises, so to speak, and the comedy rolls along with a weak “manic” energy that just doesn’t go anywhere. For an attempt at the genre, it’s stale, limp, and rather obnoxious.

It’s also strained. Boy howdy, is it strained. Henry works for a wax fruit company, one of those jobs that does indeed exist in real life but seems here to be plucked out of the “goofy comedy job” vault. It’s meant to be quirky and fun, yet the movie refuses to do anything with the notion - there are no fake food jokes, no witty one-liners about faux apples, no plot points regarding imitation groceries. There’s an unspoken running gag early in the picture in which Henry repeatedly, absent-mindedly places wax bananas into his pockets, yet the script then boldly refuses to deliver a single, simple banana-in-your-pocket gag.

There’s also a whole subplot involving Romanian gangsters, one of which is killed with a couple of bullets to the face. Now, there are many ways in which bullets to the face can produce comedy, but none of them appear in “Funny Money.” Instead, the detour sours the story even more, as the killing is played for full-on serious value. That’s some serious buzzkill in a movie that can’t afford any.

Back to the house. We’re tossed a parade of “colorful characters” (read: overly hammy performances from actors who should know better): Penelope Ann Miller as Henry’s shrill wife; Christopher McDonald as Henry’s slimy best friend; Armand Assante as a crooked cop who wants a cut of the money; Robert Loggia as Henry’s sexed-up (and later boozed-up) boss; Guy Torry as a frustrated cabbie (oh, will nobody pay his fare during the entire evening?) who breaks into comedy routines for no reason; Kevin Sussman as a beleaguered cop who just wants someone to ID Henry’s body (he thinks Henry’s dead, ha ha); Rebecca Wisocky as an art gallery owner with an insatiable appetite for the kinky. (OK, they try to make a wax banana gag work with that last one, but oh, how it fails.)

As the movie continues and the pace quickens, the movie tries with increasing frustration to pull laughs out of stagnant material. For an anything-goes comedy, the material is disappointingly unimaginative: the biggest laughs are supposed to come when the good cop thinks Henry and the bad cop are not wearing pants; or when Henry has to come up with a quick cover for why other people are calling him Henry, lest the good cop figure things out; or when Penelope Ann Miller falls down the stairs, ending with a summersault; or when the cabbie wrecks his car. There is not a moment in this film that will not have you rolling your eyes, groaning, and/or yawning. This is attempted comedy at its most embarrassing.

“Funny Money” (despite the title, the film has nothing to do with counterfeit currency) is adapted from a reportedly popular British play by Ray Cooney, with a screenplay by Harry Basil (responsible for most of Rodney Dangerfield’s miserable end-of-career direct-to-video output) and Leslie Greif (a veteran producer of lower-rung TV and DTV fare; Greif also directs, his first feature since 1997’s “Keys to Tulsa”). The movie was filmed in Romania, a place where low budget producers take their pictures when they cannot afford anywhere else. This is usually done for action and horror films; “Funny Money” is the first American comedy I know to be shot there, which is stranger still considering most of the movie occurs indoors. (A Romanian town was done up to look like Hoboken, and one wonders if, once you factor in airfare and room and board for the large cast, such a thing is actually cheaper than just shooting a couple exterior shots in Hoboken itself.)

To avoid the stigma of being branded a direct-to-video title, the producers then ran the film for seven days at four Los Angeles theaters, wherein it pulled in an average of $711 per theater for the entire week. I mention this not because I enjoy box office gossip (I don’t), but only to raise the question: how did the once-brilliant star of “Caddyshack,” “Vacation,” and “Fletch” wind up here, headlining a movie that wound up dumped into a minimum theatrical run in order to fulfill some contractual obligation, a movie that got slapped with the same grab-your-tax-credit-and-run release plan as a Steven Seagal flick, a movie that’s utterly, depressingly unwatchable?

Sigh. Welcome, Mr. Chase, to the absolute bottom of your career. Please come back soon.

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