There is a kind of “can-you-top-this” spirit at work in “Milk & Money,” and, for the first half of the pic, writer-director Michael Bergmann’s preposterous story maintains viewer interest with one outlandish plot twist after another. But the charm wears mighty thin in the long run, as the wacky tale becomes downright silly, and the result is a film that falls well short of the Terry Gilliam-like inspiration it’s striving for. This romantic comedy/modern-day fable is not compelling enough to milk any solid returns in the theatrical market; at best, it will scare up some action on the fest circuit.
At fade-in, David (Robert Petkoff) has just dropped out of medical school and is wandering some of the more upscale streets of Manhattan mulling over what to do with his life. Out of nowhere, he is approached by a woman, Nancy (Sarah Winkler), who asks him if he would consider helping her produce and direct a film, admitting this favor might take several years. A while later, another woman, Kimberly (Denise Faye), tells David she’s looking for someone she can trust and wonders if he’ll take care of a mysterious package for her.
For reasons never fully explained, David continues to have a near-hypnotic effect on women throughout the film, and his female admirers all want to sleep with him and/or ask for strange favors. He begins work on the script with Nancy, but this is interrupted when Nancy’s Uncle Andre (Robert Vaughn) appears at the apartment and insists that David help him dispose of hundreds of cows that he’s acquired. Naturally, David heads over to the 24-hour cattle library, where he meets Belted Galloway (Peter Boyle), an eccentric homeless guy who just happens to be a brilliant cattle consultant.
Galloway helps David and Uncle Andre solve their excess-cattle problem, but, in the process, 21 cows end up in Uncle Andre’s swank apartment just off Central Park. After several romantic liaisons, David falls in love with Christine (Calista Flockhart) after seeing her milking one of the runaway cows, and he has to convince her to leave her lover, who just happens to be Uncle Andre.
There are a few echoes of Gilliam’s “The Fisher King” here, but Bergmann isn’t able to pull off the magic realism, largely due to a less-than-inspired script and an uneven cast. Petkoff fails to provide much spark as David, which makes his erotic impact on women all the more baffling, and the context doesn’t allow any of the femmes any room to shine. Boyle gives the most memorable perf with his animated portrayal of the bizarre down-and-out cattle aficionado.
Bergmann makes good use of numerous Mozart selections, and Irek Hartowicz’s lensing gives New York City a lush, magical sheen.