Audiences enthusiastic about a Wesley Snipes-Woody Harrelson re-teaming had better lower their expectations, as this latest vehicle bounces along with a lame script and inconsistent pace. Fueled only by star power, “Money Train” still should steam off with a significant holiday box office haul, though word-of-mouth might halt the express a couple of stops short of what might have been its final destination.
In a wrinkle that feels fabricated by some packaging agent, Snipes and Harrelson play foster brothers (there are plenty of jokes about the lack of a resemblance) who work as New York City transit cops. John (Snipes) is protective of Charlie (Harrelson), a free spirit who gets himself indebted to the mob in a high-stakes poker game and keeps aggravating their obsessive boss, Patterson (wildly over-played by Robert Blake).
Though the two spend most of the movie chasing pickpockets and a crazed arsonist around the subway, Charlie keeps dreaming about robbing the money train — a subway car that collects all the revenue garnered from the transit system each day. The brothers also find their relationship strained as they vie for the attention of their new partner Grace (Jennifer Lopez).
Despite the title, which would seem to suggest that the train will figure prominently in the plot, it takes the movie more than 80 minutes before that story line actually kicks in, as the story rolls along in confusing fashion, seemingly unable to settle on a direction.
Director Joseph Ruben (“Sleeping With the Enemy”) doesn’t bring much suspense to the proceedings, and the script by Doug Richardson and David Loughery features a few laughs but plenty of completely inane and hackneyed dialogue, such as a line that has Grace wondering whether that’s John’s gun she feels in his pocket.
Pic’s saving grace is Snipes, who — unlike “White Men Can’t Jump”– really is the centerpiece of this ride, with Harrelson’s character acting as the baggage within the framework of the story and in general. While there are some welcome moments of warmth between the two, given the strained state of U.S. race relations, John not only gets the girl but has to keep bailing Charlie out, and Snipes clearly carries the load here in terms of sheer star power.
Lopez, seen previously in “My Family” and the short-lived TV series “Second Chances,” is quite appealing but has to overcome an ill-defined role that features too little motivation and too much makeup.
Tech credits generally are sound, though the frequent chase sequences — on foot and by train — aren’t particularly riveting. Pic does feature a lively soundtrack that works overtime trying to send the audience out on a high note, but can’t mask the fact that this “Train” never really manages to leave the station.