Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
An obnoxious attempt to recapture the onscreen chemistry of White Men Can't Jump stars Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, 1996's Money Train is a jumbled mess of about a dozen different plots thrown in a blender and unceremoniously dumped on the screen. What seems, at times, to be a straight comedy, buddy cop movie, love story, crime thriller, or action flick instead winds up being ineffective at any of these genres, a film that’s frequently confused as to what it’s trying to do. Snipes and Harrelson attempt to carry the film along, and to some extent save director Joseph Ruben's effort from being relegated to the trash heap, but the script for the film (by Doug Richardson and David Loughery) gives them precious little to work with in terms of consistency. Money Train lacks basic notions of fluidity, jumping haphazardly from plot line to plot line for nearly its entire duration before finally settling down for a too-little-too-late slam-bang finale.
The story follows a pair of foster brothers (Snipes and Harrelson) who work as transit cops on the NYC subway lines. Cue the endless gags about how Snipes is black and Harrelson is white. Yawn. The pair constantly seem to be in hot water, particularly with their boss: a scheming, money-grubbing transit executive who cares about one thing only - his bottom line. Forced to go undercover in an attempt to stop robberies, the two find their routine thrown off by the deployment of a woman on their crime unit, a feisty Latina who both brothers take a liking to. This doesn't bode well for their friendship, and neither does Harrelson's gambling habit, which has left him over his head in debt. Becoming desperate to get violent mobsters off his back, Harrelson concocts a plan to rob the "money train" that carries all of the subway system’s receipt money from the stations to the control center, and with the pressure on him to pay off his debts, this heist may be his only choice to come clean.
Richardson and Loughery's script is all over the place right from the start, in turns becoming a somewhat intriguing police thriller involving transit cops, a tiresome buddy cop comedy, and a half-baked love story involving the two brothers and their new partner. In its strongest moments, the script seems to focus on the crime suppression activities of its main characters, who set up decoys in order to apprehend thieves on the subway lines. Randomly, though, the script gets off-track by throwing around an unneeded subplot dealing with a chaos-hungry thief who's setting transit booths on fire in his robberies. This subplot occupies too much time to be completely brushed over, yet seems asinine in the bigger scheme of the film. Why the film focuses for much too long on this trivial plot element is never clear; it adds nothing to the story (but does give future Oscar-winner Chris Cooper a small role), acting as a distraction rather than an agreeable part of the whole.
The middle third of the film mainly involves the blossoming relationship between Snipes and his Latina partner (played by Jennifer Lopez), while Harrelson tries in vain to get her attention. Again, it's a poor scripting decision to essentially stall any forward progress just to lay out this ultimately fruitless story element (the obligatory sex scene between Snipes and Lopez is frustrating in its obscuring of any naughty tidbits from a young Lopez). The love story is, like all the random plot lines before it, dropped when it’s convenient, as the perpetually confused script wanders down another (equally pointless) path. I guess we, as an audience, are supposed to assume that the early reference to robbing the money train builds up in the mind of Harrelson throughout the film, but the frequent irrelevant and clunky subplots do their darnedest to make us forget all about the heist element to the film. Once the heist element finally becomes the focal point of the film in the last half hour, it’s unlikely that many viewers would even care as it just seems like one more outlandish story device.
Throughout the whole of the film, Loughery and Richardson lay on mind-numbing dialogue that threatens to turn the film into a laughably bad piece of cinematic sludge than one any viewer should take seriously. The script relies on frequent profanity-filled tirades, and most of the supposed (intentional) "humor" in the film simply doesn't work. Perhaps most ridiculous, though, is the acting of and dialogue given to Robert Blake as the transit authority executive. The character berates everyone and everything around him unrelentingly; he's set up as the villain of the film from early on, and his character is just so undeniably odious (and performed with unrestrained excess by Blake) that the action of the main plot should be glaringly obvious to any viewer. Since the film has no real point to speak of, and since we could generally guess the outcome of the film from an early point, one really has to wonder what exactly would be the benefit of watching this film? It’s not especially entertaining or enjoyable, and its big budget action sequences show up late to the party to make the film’s payoff worth the effort of sitting through it.
As I alluded to earlier, Snipes and Harrelson make an attempt to elevate this film, and they actually have good interactions between one another. Mind you that Snipes comes across as his cocksure self, and Harrelson is his (at the time) typically goofy persona. Nevertheless, the two seem to at least be having fun most of the time, have seemingly authentic playful attitudes with one another, and occasionally play out some amusing situations. Lopez, though, never approaches a level of authenticity in her role and more or less acts as eye-candy, providing a convenient fall-back point for the script when all else fails - you can almost hear the writers declaring that the film can always fall back on the romantic triangle story any time they run out of ideas. Ruben's direction is occasionally decent (the film's climax, while obviously ripped out of The Taking of Pelham 123’s bag of tricks, is fairly exciting and thrilling as captured onscreen), and the location work in the film adds to its authenticity, but really, Money Train is a wreck from the start.
With clumsy scripting that has neither a coherent scenario, sense of logic, nor good dialogue going for it, Money Train never builds momentum and instead sputters and meanders through a somewhat lengthy 103 minutes. The film is seldom vivacious, and simply stops dead by including too many absolutely irrelevant subplots. Snipes and Harrelson give it a whirl, but the sheer inconsistency of the film, seeming to adopt a "flavor of the moment" attitude when considering what to focus on, sinks the entire production. The film really is an expensive mess; it has some style to it, and even a couple of decent scenes (I found the moments when Snipes and Harrelson go undercover to nab petty crooks quite enjoyable), but the ending is too long coming and just another absurd ingredient thrown into this mess of a film: a viewer would be better off disembarking Money Train at the next available stop.
DVD Details = F-minus Lame: Full-screen pan & scan; no extras
Blood & Guts = Some crime film carnage
Profanity = Hot ‘n’ heavy throughout; the scripters must enjoy the ol’ f-bomb
Fap Factor = So close and yet so far; Lopez does her very best to keep all the good bits off screen in her sex scene
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day