A triumph of form over content, Leslie Greif’s American filmization of Ray Cooney’s 1995 hit English farce “Funny Money” makes a surprisingly fitting, if demographically dubious, Chevy Chase vehicle. Pic’s bare-bones pretext, involving a suitcase full of money, eschews psychology and witty dialogue in favor of split-second comic timing, as convoluted lie-upon-lie and extraneous character-upon-character pile up a teetering construct of predictable gags delivered at breakneck speed. Well-directed slapstick, which preemed at Aspen’s Comedy Fest, may prove a tricky sell, however; the childless, highly sex-oriented update of Chase’s escapism-questing Griswold persona is not precisely family fare.
Toiling as a foreman in a wax fruit factory, Henry (a greyer, timeworn Chase) is a dull creature of habit and unvarying routines, to the despair of his more adventurous wife Carol (Penelope Ann Miller). But a mix-up of briefcases effects a sea-change, gifting Henry with $5 million in unmarked bills belonging to the Romanian mafia.
With a firm grasp of the situation, Henry calmly books a getaway flight to Barcelona, whereupon a fearful Carol freaks out, having learned to be careful what she wishes for.
Most of pic’s action is theatrically staged in Henry and Carol’s Hoboken brownstone, as, in classic farce mode, a variety of characters with different agendas start trickling, then veritably pouring in. Each entrance requires increasingly improbable and self-contradictory explanations from Henry, as characters are stashed in extra rooms or banished outdoors, popping in and out again to belie Henry’s already threadbare fictions.
Soon the joint is jumping with drop-ins, chief among them Armand Assante, magnificent in an atypical comic turn as a vice cop on the take. Also on hand is Robert Loggia, impressive as Henry’s boss Feldman, a white-haired lothario with a perpetual Viagra-enhanced boner. Less stellar support is provided by Christopher McDonald and Alex Menenses as Henry and Carol’s best friends. A trio of armed Romanian goons in search of their missing “brerfcurse” round out the cast. Assorted mayhem, including several elaborately staged pratfalls, spit-takes, a slo-mo gun battle and Miller’s escalating drunken hysteria, ensues.
Greif obviously ascribes to the Blake Edwardian school of comedy, laying out gags with commendable topographical precision. But, unlike Edwards’ unique mixture of sophistication and slapstick, “Funny Money” falls squarely in the tradition of pure farce, itself an anomaly in this age of aggressively abrasive personality comedies.
Tech credits are excellent, particularly veteran cinematographer Bill Butler’s solid lensing, catching the free-for-all action crisply, ably aided by pic’s triumvirate of editors.