Director: Stephen Milburn Anderson
Sean Bean, Chris Hemsworth, Victoria Profeta

It's probably safe to say that all of us have fantasies of ourselves in positions that we think are more desirable than the positions we actually are in in real life. I think the fantasy that most of us dream about with the most frequency is to have some sort of wish-giver like a genie in our lives, so that every wish that crosses our minds can simply be spoken and instantly come true. But if you have read my review of the family movie Aladdin, you will have seen that I have pointed out that there are some great risks with this. What if the genie has a sick sense of humor and gives you your wish in a manner you didn't think of, like making you fall down when you wish for a trip to an exotic location? Another fantasy many people have is to have the ability to live forever. But as I pointed out in my review of The Final Patient, there are a number of potential pitfalls for someone with this so-called gift. What if you subsequently got stuck in a situation you couldn't get out of, like being buried by an avalanche? Yet another fantasy people have is the ability to have super powers, like the ability to fly or have super strength. But as I also pointed out in my review of The Final Patient, you would probably have to work very hard in order to keep your super powers a secret. What if your government found out they had a superman or superwoman in their population? Speaking of government, a lot of people have the fantasy of being ruler of their country, or even the world. This too might sound like something that would be pleasant. But if after some thought you still think that this would be great, I suggest you do a Google search on "The Sword Of Damocles", which should give you a taste of the problems that can come up for any ruler.

I'm pretty sure that those positions of power that I discussed in the previous paragraph are among the top fantasies people have. But there's one other position of power that I want to discuss that I'm pretty sure belongs in that same list of top fantasies. It's certainly one that I have personally imagined myself having numerous times in my life. And that is to suddenly have a great deal of money dropped in your lap. Who wouldn't want to suddenly be wealthy and be able to afford everything you wanted? It's a pleasant fantasy at first, but if you think about it for a while, there are potential problems. Unless maybe if you defy the great odds and win the lottery, it seems that every other avenue of suddenly getting big bucks has pitfalls. For example, I have heard several cases when banks have made mistakes and accidentally deposited a large amount of funds into someone's bank account. It makes me shake my head when I subsequently read about the people idiotically going on large spending sprees, and when the bank finds out about the mistake and calls the cops, the people don't understand why they are facing time in prison. But I would like to talk about one suddenly wealthy scenario I have seen a number of times in movies, like with Night Of The Running Man. And that is when ordinary people get their hands on money that belongs to some sort of criminal element. I am amazed by how the "fortunate" people always seem to act stupidly with their new wealth. They always seem to lead a trail behind that the criminals are able to pick up and follow to the person or people that have the criminals' money.

I can tell you that if I were suddenly to get in my possession a whole bunch of money that clearly belonged to someone else, I would immediately turn it over to the police. My parents raised me to be honest, and movies have taught me that there is not only no such thing as a free lunch, Ca$hthere's no such thing as free money; I don't want my fingers broken. But I have to admit that when I get the opportunity to watch a movie about ordinary Joes getting their hands on money from a criminal element, I immediately take it. I do like to see stupidity punished, and see the ordinary Joes suffer from their decision to keep the money. But maybe it's also because I deep down want to train myself as to what to do should the situation happen to me in real life, to make smart decisions so that I stay rich and unharmed. That's why I was attracted to the movie Ca$h when I came across it, and it indeed had some useful advice. But was it entertaining? First, a plot synopsis: In Chicago, a criminal by the name of Reese Kubic (Bean, The Lord Of The Rings) finds himself fleeing the police in a high speed car chase after robbing a dog track. Seeing that the end of his freedom may be near, he throws a suitcase out of his car while it's on an overpass. The suitcase lands below at the feet of fellow motorist Sam Phelan (Hemsworth, Thor). When Sam opens the suitcase, he finds it stuffed with over half a million dollars of cash, which delights Sam because he and his wife Leslie (Profeta, Mr. Woodcock) are about to have their home foreclosed due to a lack of funds. After Leslie is convinced they should use the cash to their advantage, they pay off their debts and spend more of the money on luxury items. Meanwhile, the now-in-prison Reese is visited by his "troubleshooter" criminal twin brother Pyke (played also by Bean). When Pyke learns of his brother's missing money, he decides to go looking for it. Using some clever detective work, he tracks down Sam and Leslie, and makes it clear that he wants all the money back - or else. Of course, Sam and Leslie don't have all of the money now, so Pyke decides to force the couple to do what it takes to pay every cent back.

Based on what I have just described above, I have a sneaking suspicion what many of you readers are thinking in your heads right now - that the premise of this movie isn't totally original. How many times have we come across stories (cinematic or otherwise) about innocent people finding cash belonging to criminals and deciding to keep it, soon afterwards getting into a lot of trouble from those criminal elements? It's happened before in movies (like with Night Of The Running Man), and it's happened since Ca$h was made and released, such as the 2014 Kate Hudson / James Franco movie Good People. Also, these movies are often long cat and mouse games between the good and bad guys, leading to a climactic hostage situation. However, with Ca$h, it quickly becomes clear that writer/director Stephen Milburn Anderson (South Central) is trying to shake things up significantly. For starters, the setting up of the plot and characters does not unfold in a conventional manner. When the movie starts, the character of Reese is already in prison, and when his brother Pyke visits him, we subsequently get flashbacks explaining how he got there and how his money got lost. Subsequently after seeing how the characters of Sam and Leslie got hold of the money and what they do with it, the movie also doesn't give Pyke an easy time tracking down who has his brother's money. While I did say earlier that Pyke does some clever detective work, there is emphasis on the work part of the process; Pyke has to patiently visit one suspect after another to track down who has the money. When Pyke does find out Sam and Leslie have the money, about a third of the movie has passed at this point. And while a typical telling of this formula would at this point demand some kind of violent and/or tense confrontation to quickly bring in a climax and resolution, that's not what happens. As I said earlier, Pyke wants all of the money back, and he puts Sam and Leslie in multiple situations over the next few days in order to get every cent back.

I hadn't seen a "stolen criminal money" story unfold like this one, so my interest was definitely piqued throughout Ca$h. I couldn't help but wonder what Sam and Leslie would have to go through to return every cent, and every subsequent repayment vignette of theirs - orchestrated by the dangerous Pyke  - certainly wasn't dull. Not only is this raising of funds varied, it also happens to often have a slightly and darkly humorous streak to it. (More about the movie's sense of humor later.) However, I have to admit that eventually what Pyke puts them through became somewhat absurd. I won't reveal what Pyke eventually has the young couple do to get money, but I couldn't believe that a professional criminal like Pyke would do this - especially since he freely puts himself at risk with this particular avenue of money raising. Despite this serious flaw, I did find the character of Pyke for the most part to be a very effective villain. The script gives the character a number of interesting (and entertaining) quirks. He practices yoga, he will pause during an interrogation in order to take a sip of water from a kitchen tap, puts on reading glasses when looking at writing, and when he belts a motel clerk in the face when he's denied a refund, he seems momentarily shocked at the sight of blood. That last scene may explain why Pyke is a man who is not immediately brutal and threatening - we see him for the most part trying a softer approach at first. But on the other hand, we do get to see that when he's insulted or not getting what he wants, he will become violent and/or threatening - and scary. Sean Bean gives a very good performance as the determined Pyke, giving the audience a feeling that this is a dangerous and determined man even when he's casually doing something like eating dinner and giving Leslie compliments on her cooking. If there is a flaw with Bean's performance, I would say that some viewers may find Bean's thick British accent a little hard to make out at times, though having grown up hearing British accents, it didn't bother me at all.

Bean's performance and the writing of his character do make up for the inadequacies found with the other main players in the movie. The characters of Sam and Leslie are pretty weak characters. We learn practically nothing about them before they find the money, and little more about them afterwards. What we do learn of them doesn't exactly endear them to us; when Pyke enters their lives and starts forcing them to do things, the two come across more like they are bewildered and annoyed rather than frightened and desperate. On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that writer/director Anderson intended this. After all, most other renditions of this formula do get the protagonists in a major tizzy eventually, and I already listed evidence that Anderson was trying to make Ca$h different from other renditions. I mentioned earlier that there is humor in the movie; it's humor that extends past the scenes when the two protagonists are trying to gather money, like when Pyke demands the motel clerk he punches in the nose to tell him, "Have a nice day" before he walks out. While I wouldn't call this or any other part of the movie's humor laugh-out-loud funny, it does often put a smile on your face and get you curious as to what the next comic touch will be. Writer/director Anderson also shows skill in the technical parts of Ca$h. With his limited budget, Anderson eschews a more polished look for one that is rougher; the locations are seedier, there is a more cramped feeling in interiors, and the lighting is more subdued, among other touches. This actually works for the movie's benefit, because I think most viewers, who are working class people like the movie's protagonists, are more accustomed to similar environments in their day to day lives. I certainly am.  Ca$h is certainly not a perfect movie, but Anderson gives it enough strengths to make it a fresh take on an old formula.

(Posted July 19, 2019)

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See also: Night Of The Running Man, Route 9, Special Delivery