Tagline: Get on the fast track!
Director: Joseph Ruben
Writers: Doug Richardson (story), Doug Richardson (screenplay), David Loughery (screenplay)
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Lopez, Robert Blake, Chris Cooper, Joe Grifasi, Scott Sowers, Vincent Patrick, Aida Turturro
18 | 1h 50min | Action, Comedy
Budget: $68,000,000 (estimated)
Back in 1992, Ron Shelton’s low-key comedy-drama White Men Can’t Jump gave us more than just basketball. The story of two racially opposed hustlers who would form an unlikely bond both on and off the courts, the movie proved a surprise hit thanks to a heartwarming screenplay and the magical onscreen chemistry of its lead players. The film was even a favourite of legendary director Stanley Kubrick, who was probably in need of a little cheer from time to time.
Three years later, the popular duo would be reunited for action-comedy Money Train, a movie that would become lost in time ― and it’s easy to see why. With star-studded action flicks such as Speed and Die Hard with a Vengeance, the genre would experience a resurgence in the mid-90s, delivering the kind of knowing, tongue-in-cheek action that would fly off the shelves like so much exploding fodder.
Money Train follows a similar buddy formula as two New York transit cops get caught up in all kinds of messy sub-narratives before finally embarking on the heist of a lifetime, one so hastily plotted that at least one of those narratives could have been sacrificed, and probably should have.
There is so much packed into 100 minutes that you barely have a chance to breathe here, and we are never able to fully root for our protagonists because their path is a constantly winding road with no time for audience investment, and for the most part they don’t seem to have any clear goal. We already have a story about two foster brothers in debt to the Russian Mafia jousting over the same love interest as they head from the welfare queue to a potential multi-million dollar heist (pause for breath), and a sub-plot involving a station stick-up artist seems somewhat superfluous.
Another reason to abandon this narrative came after the film’s release when a copycat crook imitated a scene in which a station attendant is doused in lighter fluid. So similar in nature was the real-life crime that former US senator Bob Dole would move to have the film boycotted, leading to the kind of hysteria that seems to rear its political head every once in a while ― because movies are really to blame for mankind’s capacity for evil.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the movie did fantastic numbers at the box office, trailing only Toy Story, with an opening weekend gross of $10,608,297. Money Train would even outsell Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic Casino during their opening weekends. Apparently the prospect of a Snipes/Harrelson reunion was more of a draw than seeing De Niro and Pesci reunited. That might seem absurd in hindsight, but in spite of a largely by-the-numbers screenplay the duo fail to disappoint. Sure, Money Train doesn’t possess the inimitable wit of ‘White Men’, and a good portion of the jokes fall flatter than a corporate pitch at an artist’s convention, but in terms of a likeable pairing you can’t go wrong, and their energy alone is enough to compensate for a screenplay so crammed with wisecracks it sometimes smacks of self-parody.
Here, the race card of their previous outing has been replaced by an oddball sibling rivalry. John (Snipes) is the dependable badass and Charlie (Harrelson) is his Achilles heel, a degenerate gambler with the kind of innocent smile you can’t say no to. Slapbang in the middle is Grace, a sultry cop of a neutral Latino persuasion who immediately steals the hearts of both protagonists and threatens to unravel their macho bond.
Grace is played by a young Jennifer Lopez, who proves pretty average as a comedic third amigo but was alluring enough as the demure love interest to forge an international pop career that would see her reach the dizzying heights of mainstream adulation. It is through her involvement that the banter is finally able to simmer, but a series of trite and saccharine exchanges pin-pricks any potential for heartwarming drama, particularly a cringe-worthy bout of fisticuffs that may just push the bile to the tip of your tongue. This is Sidney Deane and Billy Hoyle with their conflict diluted and their hearts ripped out.
If you can swallow the transparent aping of Ron Shelton’s bittersweet formula, there are a few tasty action sequences to sink your teeth into (this is Snipes after all), and Donald Patterson does his best with a two-dimensional role that elevates him to an almost supervillainy as the egomaniacal director of the money train, a man so motivated by vanity that he is willing to sacrifice the lives of an entire commuter train just to send out a message, and the dynamic duo prove the perfect opponents for his beady-eyed reign of subway terror.
Still, this is silly, harebrained stuff, and though the movie delivers the kind of thrills and spills one would expect, it’s easy to see why it slipped through the cracks and trickled quietly into the void.
In an incredibly contrived moment of poetic justice, subway arsonist Torch (Chris Cooper) is set on fire and hit by an oncoming train. This is after setting an attendant on fire and pushing an innocent bystander onto the tracks.
That’ll teach you!
Most Absurd Moment
Stuck up by a gang of roving thugs, our two brothers thwart the attempted robbery by turning their guns on each other, causing the gang to retreat in confusion. Those crazy kids!
Most Absurd Action Sequence
After taking out a Russian entourage with his bare hands, John smacks around a mafioso boss for threatening the life of his brother. Just as he is about to leave the mobster intact, he then has second thoughts and roundhouse kicks him through a conveniently placed plate glass window. My advice: stop using the ‘N’ word, you racist twonk!
Most Absurd Dialogue
Following one of many nasty confrontations with psychotic vulgarian Director Patterson, John and Charlie discuss the ramifications of a sexual threat that promises to ‘fuck them until they’re dead’.
Charlie: Do you think he [Patterson] wants to fuck us before we’re dead, or after we’re dead?
John: I understood it that when we’re dead, that’s when he wants to fuck us.
Charlie: Either way, it’s a pain in the arse.