Recently I signed up to one of those online DVD rental sites. I got the first month free and even after that I pay a fixed amount to get as many DVDs as I can watch and return in a reasonable time (practically speaking that’s probably about 10-15.month max). Nevertheless with a deal like this one tends to feel that the price of any individual DVD is negligible.
Which I mention in an attempt, if it were needed, to excuse my renting of the movie Cool Money. Not that I really need to excuse it because I am a Buffy fan after all and Cool Money stars James Marsters aka Spike and the curiosity value should be enough justification. Maybe it’s that this movie is so embarrassingly bad that I feel I need an excuse.
But anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. I did watch it – twice so far – and what follows is my review of same.
Cool Money is a story about a jewel thief named Bobby Comfort who gets out of jail and meets Sammy Nalo, ex-hitman with a murky past, who has an idea for robbing various New York hotels. After some persuasion they team up and the film follows their mixed success in a number of these robberies. It kinda wants to be a low-budget Ocean’s Eleven – Cool Money is a crap title but then I guess Comfort’s Three (there’s a 3rd member of the regular gang) isn’t much better I guess 😉
My first impression of Cool Money is that it’s a low budget movie and it shows. I suspected that it was straight-to-DVD but have since learned it was made-for-TV and presumably only got a DVD release because the die-hard JM fans will probably buy/rent it. After watching it for the first time my feeling was that there was a lack of talent in virtually all areas – in the writing the dialogue is cliched and the story confused and meandering, in the acting the two central performances aside we go from mediocre to downright comical, the direction is lack-lustre, the shots are boring and predictable, the music is either bland or annoying. Yet, having said all that, when watching it a second time I did notice some glimmers – a nice bit of dialogue here, an interesting camera angle there, the occasional piece of music that actually supported the mood of the scene rather than destroy it – but they were glimmers and not enough ultimately to rescue the movie.
As I say the movie’s strongest asset was the two central performances. James, and the other lead John Cassini made a valiant effort with what they have but the script doesn’t give them much to work with. James in particular – who I’ve always thought was a good actor not a great one (he makes up for a lot with his considerable charisma) – creates a character that you care about and root for. Whilst I thought Cassini wasn’t quite as good there was some chemistry between the two and you did believe there was an uneasy friendship underlying the more pragmatic partners in crime relationship. Something I’d have liked to have seen explored more.
I’ve said this movie fails in most areas but if I had to say what the biggest problem is I’d say it was the story-arc or rather noticeable lack of one. If the story was strong I think we’d forgive a lot of the other shortcomings. Basically the story you have is that Comfort teams up with Nalo, pull off a series of robberies and then because they’re almost caught, stop. There’s no real journey that the characters go on. So what you have is one-thing-happening-after-another-and-then-stop rather than beginning, middle and end. Perhaps because of this the film’s 90 minutes really drag.
There are in fact a lot of story threads in there
– Bobby’s relationship with his wife who wants him to go straight but likes what the money brings
– his relationship with Sammy who comes from a tougher, mob, criminal background
– his rivalry with a cousin in the police both for his wife’s affections and in terms of being caught.
– and various other bits that look like they’re going to be significant but are only details of the various robberies.
Perhaps if the central story was more well-defined than these could be interesting sub-plots but as it is they feel like pointless meanderings. Worse than pointless they’re frustrating when you actually become interested in following some new character’s story only to have it cut short because it was only ever, in effect, background colour to the main plot.
It’s kind of a mess. I suspect the reason for this was those fateful words ‘based on a true story’ However I think some one really needed to sit down and figure out what the spine of the story was, picking one of the threads above perhaps, and re-write basing everything around that, being ruthlessly indifferent to factual accuracy. I think I’d reduce the number of both robberies and characters. Less robberies to focus the story more and less characters because in such a low-budget film finding good actors was clearly a challenge even for the major roles. A few less embarrassingly bad performances would have been no bad thing.
As for the story I’d have chosen the element that I think works best, and also plays to the strengths you have (i.e. JM and JC’s acting), which is the relationship between the two main thieves. At the beginning of the movie Comfort doesn’t know Nalo at all. He’s persuaded to work with him but even though it brings success it’s clear that he doesn’t know how much to trust him but he starts to despite himself, and even begins to like him. At the end Nalo’s past threatens to re-surface and there was potential for Comfort discovering just how different he and Nalo are – Nalo’s come from an altogether nastier and harsher world and I think Comfort discovering that that’s who Nalo is once he’s already come to like and respect the guy could have provided some interesting conflict.
As things stand that theme’s in there but it’s a little buried and mixed in with the other stuff.
I couldn’t recommend this to anyone other than a hardcore JM fan or someone who wants to see it for curiosity value. Or perhaps as a study of what not to do in a low-budget movie.
2/10 – mostly for JM’s performance and the glimmers.