The idea for Twenty Bucks probably came from Max Ophuls's sparkling 1950 comedy La Ronde, but its prickly sensibility is pure 1990s. Rather than chase the flame of love, as Ophuls did, first-time director Keva Rosenfeld follows a pivotal twenty-dollar bill from person to person to person, with amusing results.
The relay-race form of this independent comedy limits each actor's screen time, but the loosely linked anecdotes sail along nicely. When the crisp twenty comes out of a cash machine, it gets into the hands of a philosophizing derelict (Linda Hunt) fixated on the state lottery, then those of a prospective groom (Brendan Fraser) whose indiscretions will scuttle his wedding plans. The bill moves on to a stripper at a bachelor party (Melora Walters), a hilarious teenage gourmet (Kamau Holloway) who fantasizes about his own TV cooking show and, in perhaps the sharpest vignette, a gentleman stick-up artist (Christopher Lloyd) who scams his hotheaded young partner (Steve Buscemi) on a night of mayhem.
By this time, the dough is stained with dirt, coffee, blood and cocaine.
The script, by Leslie Bohem and his late father, Endre, was hatched almost sixty years ago, but it's amazingly contemporary: Other custodians of the cash include a bewildered waitress (Elizabeth Shue) who wants to be a writer despite her father's objections, and a spaced-out priest (Spalding Gray) running a bingo game. Like Max Ophuls, Rosenfeld brings the story full circle in the end, with a little help from that recurring character Coincidence.
The ensemble cast is a joy to watch, and this romp through fits of greed and human foibles provides some rare pleasures you won't find in the mainstream blockbusters.
Better hurry, though: Twenty Bucks opens Friday at the Mayan and runs for one week.