Hard Cash

Director: Predrag Antonijevic   
Christian Slater, Val Kilmer, Sara Downing

Prejudice - this is something that has plagued movies for many decades. Years earlier, many studio executives thought that certain perspectives on certain kinds of people were not only okay, they could be made to be funny in many circumstances. I don't think I have to tell you about how people of African ancestry were made fun of by Hollywood in many films of the so-called golden age of film. But other groups have been mocked in movies as well. Native Americans have been portrayed as savages or as simple-minded people who say, "Ugh!" a lot. Asians years ago have been subjected to similar kinds of abuse, with one of the bigger insults being the many times that Caucasian actors have put on makeup to portray Asians. Fortunately, many prejudices such as these have all but disappeared from movies being made today. In fact, thinking about it, there are only two prejudices remaining today that immediately come to mind that are still against certain kinds of people, prejudices that seem to be totally accepted by millions of people around the world when it comes to popular entertainment. One of those prejudices concerns people who are overweight. Just think about how overweight people have been portrayed over the decades in movies and other aspects of popular culture right up to this very day. They have often been portrayed in movies as being sloppy, dim-witted, and simply not caring about their state of health. Why do so many people think it's all right to make fun of people who are overweight? I think it's mainly because people who are not overweight see the problem being one that those overweight people could easily solve on their own. "Normal" people think that if these overweight people simply went on a diet and increased the amount of exercise that they get, they would easily get rid of what causes them to be mocked.

The second prejudice that is also widely accepted is for people who are not of average height. I'm not talking about tall people - for some reason, there is little kidding of these people, maybe because many tall people have found success in things like sports and modeling. I'm talking about people who are below average in height. I'm talking about little people, dwarves, midgets, whatever you want to call them. Looking at popular culture concerning these certain individuals, you'll see a lot of mocking. Many little people, for example, were angry at Randy Newman for his popular song "Short People", which they felt was making fun of them. (Though if you examine the song closely, you'll see it is really making fun of prejudice, not little people.) Though when it comes to movies, you'll see a lot of little people portrayals that really do seem to be mocking those individuals. Take the notorious movie The Terror Of Tiny Town, for example. The movie had the attitude that little people doing the same things normal-sized people did was both cute and hilarious. Although its bizarre nature probably makes it worth watching once, at times it does seem like blatant exploitation of people who can't help but be the way that they are. Anyway, if you think about it, just about every movie that involves a little person uses the little person as a source of laughs. (The only exception that comes immediately to mind is the Clint Eastwood movie High Plains Drifter, where Billy Curtis' character was more or less treated straight and with sympathy.)

Why are little people almost never treated seriously in popular entertainment? Well, I think it's because of a couple of factors. One reason is that little people make up just a fraction of the population. Most of us seldom see them in public. We are not used to them, so we get little practice in seeing them as regular people who happen to be small. Another reason is Hard Cashthat they are so different to the eye than people of other minority groups. When people are confronted to something that's different than usual, often they will make fun of what's unusual so they'll feel less uneasy. Those are my theories, anyway. Whatever the reasons might be, you can almost always be sure that a movie that has little people will use the little people as a source of laughs. When I found out that Hard Cash had Verne "Mini-Me" Troyer in it, I was certain that he would be used as a source of comedy. Actually, it was more like an attempt at comedy, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The events of Hard Cash center around Taylor (Slater), a clever thief who, at the beginning of the movie, executes a quite clever plan with his fellow thieves (one of them played by Troyer) to rob a fairly high-standing criminal boss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The robbery goes badly, and Taylor allows himself to be captured by the police so that his fellow thieves can escape. A year later, out of prison, Taylor immediately goes back to his old ways, this time robbing a gambling joint with some new partners in an equally clever way. Taylor and his friends manage to all escape this time, and also with the money. But back at their hideout, Taylor discovers that all of the money has been marked by the FBI. While Taylor and his partners arrange for a way to launder the marked cash, FBI agent Mark Cornell (Kilmer) tracks down Taylor. Cornell originally had a plan to launder the bureau's money for himself, but since that's not possible now, Cornell kidnaps Taylor's young daughter and blackmails Taylor into pulling off a bigger robbery. Taylor will not only need his old friends back to pull off the job, he'll need all the luck he can get - if he can't think of a new and clever scheme that will help get him his daughter back.

I'm pretty sure you have seen elements of the above description before in other movies. All Hard Cash would have to do to differentiate itself from the crowd is put in some fresh elements. Actually, Hard Cash does do that in a lot of ways, not just the fact that one of the characters is played by a little person. The other ways that Hard Cash makes itself different from other movies using the same formula elements, however, are not what I would call positive. To begin with, take a look at the characters of this movie. Except for the character of Taylor's young daughter, there is absolutely not one character in the movie that is the least bit likable. I know that the villains of movies like these are supposed to be hissable folks who you'll love to see get their just desserts, but they should also be villains who are fun and interesting, and have you thinking stuff like, "Boy, the actor playing that villain must have had a lot of fun!" The villians in Hard Cash, though, are either so mean-spirited or so bland in their presentation that there is no fun seeing them at work. As the FBI agent who forces Slater's character to pull off another job, Kilmer is extremely blunt in the delivery of his lines. Watching him, I got the feeling that Kilmer didn't want to be in this movie at all, even though he appears in less of the movie than you might think. You sense no emotion from him when he talks, no glee or ruthlessness, and as a result he is utterly unmemorable - you will have forgotten his character not long after the movie ends. As for the other bad guys in the movie, they like to do things like endlessly spout off the "f" word, or freely make racial slurs. They are really ugly characters, and they really give a sour feeling to the entire movie.

The rest of the characters, from the good guys to those who appear briefly and quickly disappear, aren't much better. Passerbys make nasty comments about what they witness, and do things like rudely snap at innocent postal clerks or other decent-appearning people. As for the good guys, they manage to utterly uncharm us by doing things like getting drunk on vodka in the morning, or thinking that the audience is so stupid that they have to say out loud for the audience what they are doing instead of being silent and revealing what they are doing by their actions. A key self-defense murder that one of these characters is involved with is surprisingly not shown; we don't see how this character is pushed into defending herself, or how it affects her for the rest of the movie. Earlier and later in the movie, Troyer's character makes several comments towards this same female character of the band of thieves he's in, comments of a sexual nature that would be simply crude said by a normal-sized character, but come across as downright perverted and tasteless coming from the mouth of an impossibly small man. As for Slater, his performance has the attitude of a non-actor that's been offered a plum role in a movie and thinks, "Oh yeah, that could be kinda fun!" There is no conviction to his character; you never think he's a professional criminal or even a loving father of a little girl. I feel that I should reveal that I have never thought of Slater as a particularly good actor for the most part. Here, like in many of his other movies, he tries to act "tough" in a way that is best described as gnashing and showing off his teeth to the audience. To put it chartably, he simply overacts.

However, the core reasons why Hard Cash fails can't be blamed on the actors. Better direction, as well as a better-written screenplay would have helped. The screenplay's attitude towards its characters is best illustrated by Slater's character; the movie seems to think that the fact he has a young daughter is sufficient enough to make us like and care about him. Even worse than the screenplay is the direction. Though he directed the acclaimed Dennis Quaid movie Savior before Hard Cash, from Hard Cash alone you would think that director Predrag Antonijevic has no idea about how to direct a movie. This is an ugly-looking movie, for one thing. Most of the indoor parts of the movie have murky colors and extremely poor lighting. The outside parts of the movie, at least those taking place in the daytime, are somewhat better to the eye, but they still don't look right. Not just because of the color of everything, but where the movie was filmed. This is another movie by Millennium Films (the Cannon Pictures of the twenty-first century) shot in Bulgaria, and with the movie taking place in New York state, the scenery doesn't look quite right, even in the scenes taking place in the countryside. There's a lot more in the movie that doesn't look quite right thanks to Antonijevic, such as the action sequences. The car chases use real obvious back projection when showing a closeup of the individuals in their cars, and when the camera steps back to show all of the cars "speeding" down the roads, the cars appear to be only going ten or twenty miles per hour. The climatic scene involving scuba divers also fails, because the actors (or rather their stunt doubles) are so masked up in their scuba gear we can't tell which characters are being speared or cut off from their oxygen. To sum it up, Hard Cash is a real mess, a movie that even Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus at their worst wouldn't have made.

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See also: Escape From El Diablo, Felon, Foolproof