Offering a few cents’ worth of characterization and millions in snappy plot twists, “Cash” is an ultra-slick but ultimately choppy caper movie by scribe-du-jour Eric Besnard (“The New Protocol,” upcoming “Babylon A.D.”), here in his sophomore outing as director. Far outranking “The Usual Suspects” and the “Ocean’s” franchise in terms of false leads, double crosses, mistaken identities and hipster filmmaking, the pic orchestrates a series of mind-bending heists where nothing really gets heisted except auds’ comprehension. This April 23 release should put local money in the bank following a robust opening, but isn’t likely to find an equivalent fortune elsewhere.
Set inside several Parisian penthouses and two Monaco seaside resorts, the film puts its money where its title is (onscreen, it appears as “Ca$h”), as it accompanies the five-star lifestyles of multiple crooks, headed by the bluntly dubbed Cash himself (Jean Dujardin). Prologue features Cash’s partner and brother Solal (Clovis Cornillac) getting gunned down by a rival baddie during a botched investment scam. Various schemes that follow, ranging from a diamond theft to a Euro counterfeiting operation, are understood to be part of Cash’s diabolical plan to avenge his fallen bro.
Cash soon teams with a band of outlaws that includes criminal mastermind Maxime Dubreuil (Jean Reno) and his looker accomplice, Garance (Alice Taglioni), whom Cash woos, then dumps, then woos again, depending on who he thinks she is, or who he’s pretending she’s not. Things get even more complicated when an undercover cop (Valeria Golino) infiltrates the team, supposedly to advance her career.
Writer-helmer Besnard tosses out these and a dozen other narrative questions that he’s eager to ask but much less willing to help the viewer answer. Relying heavily on freeze-frames, split screen, slo-mo and CCTV footage, Besnard is unwilling to treat his own material with any sort of directness, opting instead for Steven Soderbergh’s playbook of cool cinematic effects.
Closing Monaco-set robbery ties up various subplots but shows little finesse in demonstrating the artfulness of the crime itself, which seems far too easily executed.
Dujardin has a knack for making his characters appear smarter than they’re scripted (the dim-witted surfer in “Brice de Nice,” the goofy agent in “OSS 117: Nest of Spies”), and he manages here to add a subtle layer of melancholy to Cash’s lighthearted bandit. Supporting cast holds up nicely amid several identity changes.
D.p. Gilles Henry (“Priceless”) provides a predictable number of helicopter panoramas of the Cote d’Azur and closeups of sparkling diamonds in velvet-lined briefcases. Jazzed-up score by Jean-Michel Bernard (“Be Kind Rewind”) follows the cues of “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight” and a slew of other retro-funk soundtracks that, since “Reservoir Dogs,” seem to be de rigueur with smart-aleck heist films.