Sunday, March 30, 2008

Money Train

The Action Mutant…
thinks this film should have been used for Robert Blake’s insanity defense.

Money Train

review by Joe Burrows

So, you’re a film producer that just saw Harrelson and Snipes rake it in big in White Men Can’t Jump. You know that getting them into another film vehicle while this one is still fresh in people’s minds is imperative for the bottom line. So, a film is conceived that brings both actors together and puts them in fairly wacky situations. Hell, you even put in another spunky Latina (Rosie Perez then; Jennifer Lopez now) into the mix! And you get a character actor for credibility named Robert Blake, because you know he’ll always be of stable mind and never flake out at anytime. Sounds like a winner to me, right….right?

The Plot, as it was:
Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson play John and Charlie, two NYC transit cops that are also brothers…through adoption, of course. John is the straight laced one, who is often bailing Charlie out of jams that mainly have to do with large gambling debts to the mob. When they aren’t trying to bring down an arsonist (Chris Cooper) that sets fire to subway ticket booths, they’re fighting over the affections of a new officer named Grace (Lopez). However, Charlie thinks everything will work out fine when he figures out a plan for him and John to rip off the “money train”, the train that picks up the daily haul of subway tokens in NYC and takes them to their final stop. However, they have to do it under the watch of Donald Patterson (Blake), the train’s surly supervisor that could care less about the two or anyone else that messes with his train!

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
I’m sure some reviewer out there has used the phrase “token entertainment” when it comes to describing Money Train. In other words, it is being offered to the consumer as a symbol of entertainment in its leanest of forms, with very little substance to accompany it. You know what the sad part is? It barely even qualifies as THAT! Anyone expecting an immense amount of laughs from the star duo and an equal amount of action from the movie will be disappointed on both grounds. Though both share a few amusing moments, each scene with Wesley & Woody seems to follow the same dialogue. “Charlie, how could you fuck up again?” “I know, John…I’m a fuck up.” “Yeah, but we’re brothers, right?” “Yeah, we’re brothers alright!” And someone will come up and say “But you two look nothing alike!” and we’re supposed to have a hearty laugh. The thing is this goes on for almost ¾ of the film’s duration, as the two stars’ charisma can only carry the film so far. Aside from some confrontations with Cooper’s Torch character (which made this film much more controversial than it deserved to be when some kook imitated the Torch’s screen actions to deadly results), there’s no train action to speak of and the process of robbing said “money train” isn’t tackled until close to the 90 minute mark. Until then, the audience is just treated to one tired situation after another with only some loosely connected plot to connect it along. Lopez adds nothing more than another adaptation of the spunky Latina persona she would carry into film and music. Blake is all fun snarl and piss, chewing up the scenery and ready to spit it out like bile. His distinction as the villain is sketchy at best because it is at its most manufactured. Charlie and John’s decisions in the finale directly puts hundreds of people’s lives at stake (due to their own greed, or wanting to dig their way out of the working class drudges, as it’s passed off as), yet Patterson is the default villain simply because he declares he doesn’t care if anyone dies in his efforts to stop the train robbery. Sure, he’s a souring, dickish hardass that has an unhealthy obsession with his work but he wouldn’t have made the comments had the robbery not commenced in the first place. In other words, a better screenplay would have crafted a better story and made a more credible villain, instead of the manufactured laziness brought about by the need for sheer profitability. Well, at least the train crash was nice.

Body Count/Violence: 3. The number is low because the action only shows up a few more times than that. We’re mostly talking fistfights between the two leads, though Snipes does mess up some mobsters and puts one through a window in one scene. There’s also some shooting, people being set on fire and/or being run down by trains and the aforementioned train wreck finale, which not only looks great but encapsulates what the flick is in one fell swoop.

Sexuality/Nudity: Lopez shows her breasts in a sex scene, which also showcases Snipes hard, chocolate build (no, I’m not gay but ask any guy who their “man crush” is and I’m sure Wesley Snipes is in most of their top 5s.). And no, she does not show the voluptuous ass that helped her career out more than any other ass in history. There’s also a scene in a strip club with gals in pretty skimpy outfits.

Language/Dialogue: Pretty strong, or as the MPAA puts it, “pervasive”.

How bad was it?:
About 80% of the reviews I read thoroughly trashed it, mentioning everything from it not being original, engrossing or even funny. The funniest criticism may have come from Blake himself on The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder on 7/8/98. He stated, “I’ll never do a ‘Money Train’ again…what an epic! ‘Oh, where’s Mr. Blake?...get him in an hour and a half so he can do 30 seconds of footage!” And that statement certainly had nothing to do with ego, as he earlier claimed “I don’t need a (audition) tape. If you want my picture, let a photographer take a picture of horse manure”. Priceless.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
This is where it gets fun. Produced and distributed by Columbia Pictures for a budget of $68 million, Money Train opened on 11/24/95 disastrously in 4th place with $10.6 million. It had the displeasure of not only going against the newly opening Toy Story but against fairly new performers GoldenEye and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. It finished in the same position the next weekend and finished the year barely in the top 20. The film finished its run with a paltry gross of $35.4 million, probably leaving Robert Blake hoping Tony Musante would have gotten his role in the film instead.

Film: *1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ***/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.

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