Funny Money (2006) / Comedy-Thriller

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for language, comic violence, and sexual humor
Running Time: 98 min.

Cast: Chevy Chase, Penelope Ann Miller, Armand Assante, Christopher McDonald, Alex Meneses, Kevin Sussman, Robert Loggia, Guy Torry, Rebecca Wisocky, Zoltan Butuc
Director: Leslie Greif
Screenplay: Henry Basil, Leslie Greif (based on the play by Ray Cooney)
Review published February 11, 2007

There's nothing funny about Funny Money, a woefully inept farce based on the London play by Ray Cooney.  Perhaps on stage, this sort of comedy of errors works better, with lots of plot machinations, false identities, and slapstick galore.  In the realm of film, it's just tedious.  The premise of finding a bag full of loot is stuff most people would ditch in "comedy screenwriting 101" due to its overuse in television sitcoms and bad gangster dramas.  The characters in the film aren't the only ones stuck in a rut; pretty much everyone involved in this movie needs to rethink the status of their careers.

Chevy Chase (Christmas Vacation, Funny Farm)  stars as Henry Perkins, a middle-aged wax fruit factory manager who needs a jumpstart to his dreary life.  His wife, Carol (Miller, Thanksgiving Family Reunion), thinks he can never do anything spontaneous, which spurs him to think of something to prove her wrong.  Henry gets the means to do so when he mistakenly swaps his briefcase with one belonging to a European thug on a subway, which just so happens to contain about $5 million in cash.  Of course, this amount of money is going to be missed by the criminals it "belongs" to, so Henry decides to do his first spontaneous thing in years -- tell his wife to get ready in a hurry for a one way trip to a European country and give up their old lives with their newfound wealth. 

Snags occur when two different police officers come sniffing around, one being a crooked cop (Assante, Two for the Money) who wants a payoff and the other a goody-goody (Sussman, Little Black Book) who refuses to leave until someone identifies the body of the man who he thinks is Henry Perkins (in reality, it's the gangster with Henry's case and identification wo gets whacked for losing the money).  With the gangsters on the way to the house, Henry and Carol must find a way to ditch the cops and get on the first plane to Greece before they get tossed in jail -- or worse.

Set in Hoboken, NJ, but shot in Bucharest, Romania, Funny Money does sport an ample amount of recognizable names and faces, but practically all of them are washed-up if their recent track record is any indication. It's a no-brainer to scratch off the potential worth any film that has Chevy Chase as a main player past 1989, and Funny Money certainly doesn't buck the trend as far as the potential for him to come back to the prominence he once held in the 1970s and 1980s as far as the ability to make people laugh.  Penelope Ann Miller's recent career has fared little better, although she presumably could still deliver a worthwhile performance if she weren't stuck in silly roles like this which require to be alternately annoying or obnoxiously drunk.  And does anyone say, "Kick ass!  It's Robert Loggia and Armand Assante!  This is gonna be good!", anymore?  OK, perhaps bad movie lovers...

I shouldn't complain too much about the actors, since they do the best they can with the material.  As adapted and shot by writer-director Leslie Greif, Funny Money suffers from a low budget look that has this one tagged as a straight-to-video or basic cable release, with video textures, spotty use of the generic soundtrack, and sets and props that give off that "we found this stuff lying around, so let's use it for the movie" quality to them.  With tired gags, not-too-clever slapstick, and assumed identities that never really pan out to inspired laughs, Greif tries to achieve the semblance of comedy through farcical pacing and progressively hammy acting.  The plot becomes overly complicated as each character must assume different identities in front of different characters, but you'll find yourself quickly ditching any effort to follow along closely once you determine that this comedy of errors never capitalizes on any of the misunderstandings for their potential humor value.

With forced jokes and performances that go for increased zaniness without adequate material to take things to the next level first, Funny Money sinks into the comedy abyss due to spending too much time spinning its wheels in plot mechanics and desperate injections of trite shenanigans for easy laughs.  Like the wax fruit that appears throughout the film, it has the look and feel of a comedy, but one bite reveals it to be merely an unpalatable pretender.  With stale ideas and musty forms of humor, Funny Money smells funnier than it plays.  If you're wise, you won't trade any of your real money in exchange.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo