The hyperkinetic comedy of Chris Tucker supercharges the buddy actioner “Money Talks.” The now familiar construct of a black-and-white duo teamed against illegal forces is enlivened by the standup’s presence much in the way that Eddie Murphy provided the oomph for “48HRS.” While the new film is a couple of notches down the scale from its antecedent, it nonetheless delivers the goods and that bodes well for strong late-summer theatrical play and subsequent brisk business in ancillaries.
Franklin Hatchett (Tucker) is a motor-mouthed scammer whose small-time frauds somehow get the attention of TV newsman James Russell (Charlie Sheen). Not surprisingly, when Russell descends upon Franklin’s car wash, the huckster isn’t particularly interested in the media attention. A poor loser, the newsman fingers Franklin to the cops and he’s carted off to jail.
Coincidence pushes Franklin into the big leagues. On a prison transfer bus, he’s cuffed to what turns out to be the right guy. En route, the transport is assailed by a mercenary force that grabs the French dude (Gerard Ismael) shackled to Franklin and whisks the two off in a helicopter. Frankie understands enough of their French lingo banter to know they’ve got a big deal going down and that he should make a quick exit into Santa Monica harbor when his cuffs are removed.
Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow’s script is written for optimum dramatic convenience. There’s a fierce, if often predictable, logic that proceeds like a series of falling dominos. While the picture’s action set-ups are loud and overblown, the characters are so winning and off-beat that one is tempted to forgive director Brett Ratner’s indulgence in the big bang.
Franklin winds up being the wrong man — tagged as the mastermind responsible for the siege on the bus. So he calls up Russell, offering him an exclusive in exchange for protection. For the news hound, it’s an easy call — not only is his job in jeopardy, but the next week happens to be a sweeps period, and the story is obviously prime ratings material. Not only that, but he’s days away from marrying nouveau riche Grace Cipriani (Heather Locklear).
Naturally, keeping Franklin out of circulation won’t be an easy task. The cops want him, the crooks want him and his pregnant girlfriend (Elise Neal) has a few demands of her own. It’s also not particularly helpful that his flamboyant personality makes him more than a tad conspicuous.
When Russell attempts to pass Franklin off as an old college buddy at his pre-wedding reception, the scammer tells Grace’s father, Guy (Paul Sorvino), he’s Vic Damone Jr., son of Vic and Diahann Carroll. He’s embraced as a paisan and truly hilarious consequences ensue.
The anarchic spirit Tucker brings to “Money Talks” makes an otherwise formulaic thriller genuine fun. Unlike some other live-wire comics, he has an underlying sweetness that makes for a winning screen personality.
Sheen, in a considerably less flashy role, gives one of his better performances. He understands he’s meant to be the calming influence in this scenario and perfectly effects the slick, slightly vain, low-key demeanor of CNN’s Linden Soles. The supporting cast generally is strong and in synch with the madcap spirit, though Ismael as the French thug has little room to maneuver in his cliched role. Sorvino is pure delight, particularly in tandem with Tucker.
Tyro feature director Ratner demonstrates a cool, confident professionalism that belies his inexperience. The seams are only apparent when he has to slow the momentum to allow for the full fury of pyrotechnic stunts. Otherwise, he has a deft manner of glossing over plot holes and dispensing with story twists that are a little bit too convenient.