Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Money (1976)

Before he became a revered curator of America’s cinematic memory, creating documentaries and montages such as his beloved sort Precious Images (1986), Chuck Workman made a few images that weren’t so precious. For instance, he wrote and directed this disjointed and frustrating drama/thriller about desperate people, which is often distributed under the title Atlantic City Jackpot. By any title, this picture is a mess, although the basic idea is sound. Roland (Graham Beckel) is a loser who flits around the edges of Atlantic City, piecing together a living with gambling, petty crimes, and scams. Meanwhile, Richard (Laurence Luckinbill) is a successful businessman whose ambition has caused trouble; smothered in debt, Richard floats by on advances from one sketchy deal to the next. Eventually, these characters intersect because Roland’s spaced-out girlfriend, Lucy (Regina Baff), babysits in Richard’s house. One evening while Lucy isn’t paying attention, Roland slips into Richard’s house and kidnaps Richard’s two children. Had the movie started this way and then become an examination of the extremes these two men are willing to chart in the name of self-preservation, The Money could have been interesting. Instead, the kidnapping doesn’t happen until very late in the story, so most of the screen time is consumed by nonsense. In one scene, Roland kneels on the sand beneath the famous Atlantic City boardwalk and watches a bunch of crabs scurry around while an unseen PA blasts carny hollers about a sideshow attraction called “The Ape Lady.” This goes on forever. Edited with an itchy trigger finger by the usually reliable Paul Hirsch, The Money jumps back and forth between flat scenes, trying and failing to create energy through juxtaposition. Yet while the acting and cinematography are passable, the storytelling is pathetic. And don’t be fooled by video packaging emphasizing the participation of Danny DeVito, because the diminutive actor has only one inconsequential scene as a bartender.

The Money: LAME

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