Vague and uninvolving, MONEY FOR NOTHING wastes potentially absorbing true-life material through a critical wobbliness in its point of view. It's impossible to tell if this weakly executed movie is intended as modern folklore, cautionary tale, caper comedy, suspense thriller, family
tragedy, or social commentary.
Grumbling about unemployment, Joey Coyle (John Cusack) and his righteous pal Kenny (Michael Rapaport) are cruising around when a bag of money falls off an armored vehicle driven by two careless couriers. The cash bag proves a Pandora's Box: Kenny whines about turning it in, neighborhood types
quickly figure out Joey's secret, and the cops--headed by Detective Laurenzi (Michael Madsen)--discover who owns the car Joey was driving. A classic screw-up, Joey entrusts his loot to small-time hood Dino Palladino (Benicio Del Toro) who lies about laundering Joey's money through the Mafia big
boys. Furthermore, his refusal to do the right thing and return the filthy lucre estranges Joey from his family.
Meanwhile, the local Crime Incorporated refuses to surrender the half of Joey's cache that they were supposed to launder. After a minor shoot-out, Joey sensibly decides to cut his losses and skip the country with his remaining cash and his girlfriend, Monica (Debi Mazar). At the airport, with
the money stuffed inside pantyhose in his pants, Joey nearly boards his flight to freedom. Although he's apprehended at the last moment, we learn over the credits that Coyle never served time for failing to turn over his windfall.
MONEY FOR NOTHING is a true-life TV movie-of-the-week adrift on the big screen, further hampered by the presentation of the central character as a dolt. When the walls close in on Coyle we don't care--we may as well be reading newspaper coverage of the event. Shot in Pittsburgh (unpersuasively
standing in for Philadelphia, where the Coyle story occurred), the film evinces no feeling for the City of Brotherly Love. We seem to be in some anonymous grey zone of ugly, lower middle class homes punctuated by a few dull interior shots. Further destroying the verisimilitude is the casting of
actors who seem more at home on the lower East Side of Manhattan than they would on Philadelphia's Arch Street. If this rags-to-riches-to-rags tale has any lingering emotional resonance, it's due to superb turns by some members of the supporting cast, particularly Madsen. Still, MONEY FOR NOTHING
never makes up its mind how it wants to be perceived. The sad sideshow that surrounded unlucky Joey Coyle's unexpected good fortune never achieves the pathos or humor it might have in the hands of more confident, purposeful storytellers. The real Joey Coyle, who has a cameo in the film, died in
1993, after the release of this picture, an irony which makes this movie's failure even more disheartening. (Violence, adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: R
- Review: Vague and uninvolving, MONEY FOR NOTHING wastes potentially absorbing true-life material through a critical wobbliness in its point of view. It's impossible to tell if this weakly executed movie is intended as modern folklore, cautionary tale, caper comedy… (more)