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Cash Poor

Paul Newman fails to score in this empty caper flick.

 Where the Money Is is Hollywood's latest attempt at a geezer vehicle -- in this case, for Paul Newman. Despite his unassailable movie-star credentials and his still-handsome mug, Newman is faced with the inevitable dilemma of the aging leading man: Either make a film that appeals only to other oldsters (in other words, a geezer vehicle), step down to lesser parts or risk looking ridiculous by still playing romantic leads. In recent years, Newman has gracefully taken the middle course -- playing supporting roles (Hudsucker Proxy) or even supporting roles as the love interest's father (Message in a Bottle).

At first, Where the Money Is appears to resemble another recent geezer movie -- Kirk Douglas's Diamonds. Both involve old men who have strokes, then set out to reclaim a lost stash. But that's where the similarities end. While Diamonds was essentially a sentimental family tale, this one is a lightweight, by-the-numbers caper film that tries to have it every which way -- acknowledging Newman's years, while still suggesting that he can attract women roughly half his age. (No wonder it seemed like a big deal in Twilight when Newman was cast opposite "older" women -- Susan Sarandon and Stockard Channing -- who were only two-thirds as old as him.)

The star plays Henry, an over-the-hill bank robber serving a long stretch in prison. When Henry has a debilitating stroke and the prison hospital is overcrowded, he is shipped off to a private convalescent home. He seems to be a total vegetable, unresponsive to anything. But nurse Carol (Linda Fiorentino) begins to suspect that Henry's not quite as bad off as he seems. In fact, she begins to suspect that he's faking. She tries being sultry and seductive; she tries making loud noises. But Henry doesn't even flinch. In a final test that defies credibility, she manages to force Henry into action. Turns out she was right all along: Having studied yoga, Zen detachment and self-hypnosis in the prison library, Henry has been faking. His plan is to escape the no-security facility and reclaim his share of the proceeds from his last job, more than enough money to get out of the country and assume a new identity. But something has screwed up: The money is gone, leaving Henry without a plan.

The old man and the scene: Paul Newman knows Where the Money Is.
The old man and the scene: Paul Newman knows Where the Money Is.

Luckily, Carol has a few plans of her own. Bored to tears by her job, her life and her husband, Wayne (Dermot Mulroney), she is energized by the presence of an honest-to-God bank robber. She convinces a skeptical-but-desperate Henry to go in with her on an armored car heist. But they have to let Wayne in on the deal, which creates a new set of problems. Henry may be old enough to be Wayne's grandfather, but Wayne is still jealous of the attention Carol gives Henry -- and probably not without cause.

Where the Money Is is another placeholder in the stalled career of British director Marek Kanievska, who made a fine debut in 1984 with Another Country and promptly slid downhill with 1987's Less Than Zero; this is his first feature since. But it's hard to know whether to blame the movie's failings on Kanievska or on the screenwriters; nobody involved seems to have the requisite touch for a heist film. There is only minimal suspense, and the spirit of the affair is sodden: Mulroney's character is such a pill that he drags the energy level down every time he's on screen. The mechanics of the caper itself aren't particularly inventive, and it takes two-thirds of the movie to get there.

All that we're left with is Newman's charisma and Fiorentino's sexiness -- and together they add up to no more than small change.

 
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