If Diane Keaton were a comer in 2007, she'd probably be stuck in romantic comedies cooked up in movie-studio test kitchens. No Godfather for her. No Annie Hall, no Shoot the Moon, no Reds. Filmmakers who now use Katherine Heigl as their go-to girl would be flummoxed by the willowy radiance that Keaton still so easily emits — the wry shiksa grin, those bright saucer eyes, that offhand laugh that suggests she's the smartest person in the room, even when playing a dumb blonde. Keaton's worst films have come only in the last 10, 15 years — the forgettable, lamentable, treacly, preachy paychecks like Hanging Up, Town & Country, Plan B, The Family Stone, and last year's Because I Said So, perhaps the worst of them all.
The latest, Mad Money, is actually a remake of a 2001 BBC television production titled Hot Money, about women who clean the Bank of England. Released with almost no promotional push, it will likely die a quick, quiet death. And that would be a minor shame, because, truth is, it's not without its estimable charms — Keaton chief among them.
She plays the pampered Bridget Cardigan. She and her husband Don (Ted Danson) live in a sprawling midwestern manse — though when we first meet the couple, Don's shredding dollar bills and flushing them down the commode, while Bridget's skedaddling out the back door with a bag full of filthy lucre and the cops on her tail. Their story's told in flashback: Don, once a six-figure exec, has been downsized and is drowning in debt, and Bridget's ill equipped to do anything but spend money. The filmmakers take little time to get Bridget a new job: cleaning the toilets at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, where she meets the ditzy Jackie Truman (Katie Holmes) and the bored-outta-her-brains Nina Brewster (Queen Latifah).
It's Nina's job to destroy worn-out currency, and Bridget figures they might as well steal the bills before they're destroyed. So the women stuff the bounty in their panties and walk out the door a few times too many. (No, that's not a spoiler. The film is often interrupted by scenes of the stars explaining to the feds precisely how the heist worked.)
And while it's all so breezy and zippy and Girl Power-peppy — Director Callie Khouri also wrote the Thelma and Louise screenplay — it's Keaton who makes Mad Money worth a few bucks. Bridget's a smart, stubborn woman who can't stop stealing; for her, it's a necessity and a kick, a way to pay the bills and score some thrills. And Keaton, who's always played drama like comedy and vice versa, nails it, imbuing the reined-in slapshtick with a real sense of purpose.
Katherine Heigl, who suffered through minor parts during the '90s, is sort of a Diane Keaton starter kit; Knocked Up was the dirty-talk version of Annie Hall — nebbishy Jew inexplicably lands hot, tall, no-shit shiksa. But her new 27 Dresses is precisely the kind of movie Keaton avoided early on — the formulaic comedy so predictable that seeing it and skipping it are the same thing.
Heigl is plain Jane, the bridesmaid who's never the bride, in love with her sportswear-making boss (Ed Burns, seemingly in every bad movie this January), who only has eyes for Jane's sister Tess (Malin Akerman). Through circumstances slight and silly, Jane meets Kevin (James Marsden), a wedding columnist for a New York Times knockoff, who's as creepy as he is charming: The guy is one Post-it note away from stalking, though movies like this play that kind of boorish behavior as lovey-dovey cute. Ultimately, Jane betrays Tess, Kevin betrays Jane, everything falls apart until everyone comes together. If you think that's spoiling anything, you should see your first movie in the near future. Make it one from the 1970s, preferably starring Diane Keaton.