Where The Money Is

He’s been around so long that sometimes we take him for granted. Even when he’s in a bad film, I’ve never seen a bad Paul Newman performance. Although he prefers to dabble in salad dressing and popcorn, Newman is like a fine wine. He only gets better with age.

Newman is terrific in “Where the Money Is,” a breezy crime caper with catchy dialogue and likeable characters. He plays Henry, an aging convict who fakes a stroke so he will be transferred to a less-restrictive senior center.

We know he’s faking it because he’s Paul Newman, and it wouldn’t be much of a movie with the star lost in a catatonic state for ninety minutes. The trick is convincing senior center nurse Carol (Linda Fiorentino). She smells a rat the moment Henry is dumped on her, and goes to extreme lengths to prove her instincts right.

“Where the Money Is” reminded me of one of those frothy Hawaiian drinks with rum, the kind with the umbrella. It goes down easy and makes you feel good for a couple of hours. The film is an intoxicating mix of good old fashioned entertainment and engaging performances.

Newman has been down this road before. Here, he plays a former bank robber who is coerced out of retirement to pull off one last job. He’s an affable bad guy, sort of like an older “Butch Cassidy.” After years perfecting his unique escape, Henry encounters two road blocks on his road to freedom.

One is nurse Carol, who is discontent in her home life, and anxious to add a little adventure to her dull routine. The other is learning that his supposed windfall has been squandered by his partner’s ungrateful son. Once Carol learns his secret, Henry has no choice but to help her plan and execute an armored car heist.

Linda Fiorentino is wonderful as Carol, a woman who knows she deserves more and isn’t afraid to go after it. Fiorentino is a master of playing smart, sexy women, and she doesn’t disappoint here. When she gives Henry an impromptu lap dance, she’s cool, calculated and very funny. It’s nice to see her lighten up.

Even though she’s attracted to Henry, Carol is living with her high school sweetheart Wayne, played by Dermot Mulroney. Like his character in “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” Mulroney emerges as the third wheel and still manages to make an impression. He’s so darned cute, and it’s easy to see why Carol has stayed with him all these years.

The plot by E. Max Frye, Topper Lilien and Carroll Cartwright is serviceable at best, but their dialogue is truly inspired. They provide the cast with some thoughtful passages, including a great scene where Henry waxes eloquently about how he tricked the guards at the prison. The characters never say or do anything that spoils the illusion.

Director Marek Kanievsa, who hasn’t been behind the camera since 1987’s “Less Than Zero,” keeps everything light and fluffy. It’s obvious he’s not out to make a great caper film, but rather a tidy little character comedy. He succeeds.

Set in Oregon, “Where the Money Is” feels like a small-big movie. It has big stars, but is very intimate. The filmmakers allow us to spend time with the characters, and even though they’re breaking the law, root them on. You like these people, especially Henry and Carol. They’re sort of like “Thelma and Lou.” When they’re surrounded by police and told to come out with their hands up, you believe Henry when he says that you haven’t lived until you hear those words.

“Where the Money Is” is filled with all sorts of these little observations. I especially liked the way the writers let us in on Henry’s charade, watching him take care of personal business while pretending to be zoned out. These moments clue is in to the fact that Henry, above everything else, is an honorable man. When a care home patient starts to choke on something, Henry creates a diversion that saves the woman’s life, but opens him up to Carol’s suspicions.

Carol’s attempts to prove her instincts correct are extremely enjoyable, ranging from the obvious (dropping trays to evoke a response) to the sexy lap dance that goes nowhere. Her final solution, dragging Henry along on a picnic with Wayne, and then threatening to dump him in the lake, is the turning point in the film. It’s here where everyone puts their cards on the table. How the director and writers deal the rest of the deck makes for thoughtful entertainment.

The miraculous thing about “Where The Money Is” is that the filmmakers have managed to make a heist film without firing off one bullet. Their ammunition is the cast, and they hit us with their best shot. How refreshing to sit through an adult movie that doesn’t insult the audience with the obvious. Even more remarkable is that the filmmakers accomplished all of this within the bounds of a PG-13 rating.

Paul Newman claims that he wants to make one more film before retiring. Hopefully it will be a reunion with Robert Redford, who shared the screen with Newman in “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid” and “The Sting.” Until that moment, “Where The Money Is” serves as an excellent reminder of Newman’s talent as an actor.


Newman and Fiorentino steal heist film


Paul Newman, Linda Fiorentino, Dermot Mulroney in a film directed by Marek Kanievska. Rated PG-13. 88 minutes.


God bless Paul Newman.

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