EmptyChevy Chase returns to center screen and Bucharest backlots play Hoboken, N.J., in "Funny Money." The laugher about a meek middle manager who finds a life-changing fortune takes a while to hit its stride, but in its best stretches, it offers deliriously spirited farce. The cast, along with the promotional efforts of timeshare operator Consolidated Resorts, could entice older audiences to theaters, but the film, which never quite shakes off a flat, low-budget look, will find its true payday in video.
The animated credits that open "Money" set the tone of retro silliness for this comedy without an agenda. Chase still is game, and a perfect fit, as milquetoast Henry Perkins, a longtime employee of the Feldman Wax Fruit Co. Henry's not bitter that Feldman himself (Robert Loggia) shot down his visionary bruised-banana concept a decade earlier. He's not angry that his wife, Carol (Penelope Ann Miller), mocks him in couples therapy for being a creature of habit. A sharper shrink might note a bit of projecting on her part: Repressed and proper, Carol's the sculptor of voluptuous, oversize nudes that she's afraid to submit to galleries. But however uncomplaining Henry may be, after a subway jostle with a Romanian thug makes him the possessor of a briefcase containing $5 million in cash, he doesn't hesitate for a second to plan his and Carol's getaway to distant shores.
Besides Carol's reluctance to break the rules, Henry's imminent birthday celebration complicates their would-be escape. The couple and their best friends, Vic and Gina (the well-cast Christopher McDonald, Alex Meneses), attempt to pass themselves off in fictional configurations to a couple of comical cops nipping at their heels. The ultra-slow-dawning Slater (a very funny Kevin Sussman) arrives on behalf of the NYPD to tell the inebriated Carol that her dead husband and his briefcase have been found in the East River. Armand Assante, who should do more comedy, all but steals the show as the toothpick-chewing Genero, a crooked Hoboken detective who thinks the cash-rich Henry is a male prostitute.
The comedy of errors grows more tangled as dozens of party guests pour into the Perkins townhouse, a palatial pad whose size is more a function of genre requirements than a reflection of real estate reality. There's plenty of fine comic timing and deliciously deadpan delivery on display, but not all the supporting performances are up to par. Among the central roles, Miller's drunk ditz would have been far funnier if she had started off on a quieter note. But helmer Leslie Greif lets her mug it up well before her character starts boozing it up.
Adapting Ray Cooney's London stage hit, Greif ("Keys to Tulsa") and his co-scripter, Harry Basil, keep the action light and swift-moving. But the most inspired notion here -- the idea of covering up the convoluted charade as a murder-mystery party game -- could have been mined for more laughs.
An FWE Picture Co. production in association with Tobebo Film Produktion GmbH & Co. KG
Director: Leslie Greif
Screenwriters: Harry Basil, Leslie Greif
Based on the play by: Ray Cooney
Producers: Herb Nanas, Brad Siegel, Leslie Greif
Executive producers: Jeff Franklin, Philip von Alvensleben, Harry Basil, Ray Cooney
Director of photography: Bill Butler
Production designer: Stephen J. Lineweaver
Music: Andrea Morricone
Co-producers: Pat McCorkle, Peter Perotta
Costume designer: Donna Zakowska
Editors: Stephen Adrianson, Terry Kelley, Stephen Lovejoy
Henry Perkins: Chevy Chase
Carol Perkins: Penelope Ann Miller
Genero: Armand Assante
Sol Feldman: Robert Loggia
Vic: Christopher McDonald
Gina: Alex Meneses
Detective Slater: Kevin Sussman
Angel: Guy Torry
MM Virginia: Rebecca Wisocky.
Running time -- 95 minutes
No MPAA rating