What happens when a good movie star shows up in a bad movie?
It's a perennial question, and it's raised this time by "Where the Money Is," a lackluster comedy featuring a typically solid performance by Paul Newman, one of the few American superstars who really knows what he's doing in the acting department. He plays an aging crook who's been faking a severe illness to pave the way for a prison break. Once out of the slammer, he befriends a nurse (Linda Fiorentino) who saw through his ruse all along, and together with her suspicious husband (Dermot Mulroney) they plan a new caper meant to finance fresh starts for all of them.
Once you get past its slightly unusual premise, this is a painfully ordinary picture, with enough twists to stave off complete boredom but not enough to make it a strong vehicle for an actor of Newman's abilities.
In years long past, star names made the box office busy all by themselves, and news of "a Jimmy Stewart picture" or "a Bette Davis picture" was all many moviegoers needed to head for their local theaters. Today, not even the most famous Hollywood faces can write their own ticket to success. The current Exhibit A is Bruce Willis, who bombed with "Breakfast of Champions" and then failed to get an Oscar nomination for "The Sixth Sense" even when it did become a hit. If he isn't a star to conjure with, nobody is.
That includes Newman, whose magnetic face and riveting voice can't overcome the fundamental fact that "Where the Money Is" has little going for it. Since few ears will perk up at the announcement of "a Linda Fiorentino picture," and since director Marek Kanievska is hardly a well-known auteur, you can expect this movie to disappear with dazzling speed. Newman deserves more auspicious surroundings, and so do his admirers.
*Rated PG-13; contains sexual innuendo, violence, and vulgar language.?
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society