From The Parallax Review Vaults: Hard Cash (2002)

The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of Hard Cash was for the “On Cable” section of The Parallax Review.

by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor

Now Playing on Showtime, The Movie Channel

We’ve all been there. You can’t sleep, so you turn on the TV to see what kind of garbage is being shown at three in the morning. You happen on a movie you’ve never heard of with some big names. You decide it might be watchable; after all, it stars Christian Slater, Val Kilmer, and Daryl Hannah. You can remember a time when they were movie stars and you have fond memories of Heathers, Real Genius, and Splash. Congratulations, you just fell into the trap that the producers of a piece of straight-to-DVD crap have set for you. After thirty minutes of lazy dialogue, over-the-top performances, and incoherent plot twists, you realize your mistake. But it’s too late; a plot that promises thrills, action, and sexy women already sucks you in. When the films ends, you realize that none of those promises were filled and you’re left with ninety minutes subtracted from your lifespan. You cannot find a more apt example of this type of film than Hard Cash.

Christian Slater gives a solid central performance as Taylor, an enterprising thief. When the film opens, he finds himself in the botched robbery of a sleazy counterfeiter (William Forsythe in a bizarre cameo). When it becomes obvious that there will be no escape, he gives himself up to the police so that his accomplices and girlfriend, Paige (Sara Downing), can escape. One year later, he is released from prison (apparently breaking-and-entering and robbery charges don’t carry very heavy penalties in this film’s world). He returns to Paige who has been looking after his daughter, Megan (Holliston Coleman). In order to get them out of the trailer park where they have been living for the last year, Taylor rounds up a new crew and robs an off-track betting facility. But as the crew celebrates their ill-gotten gains, they discover the FBI has marked all the bills. When Taylor tries to launder the money, he finds himself at the mercy of crooked FBI agent Cornell (Val Kilmer). Cornell wants Taylor and his crew to pull off a robbery. If they refuse, the consequences will be very dire for all involved. From there, the plot consists of double and triple-crosses, of which only half make sense.

It’s hard to hate this movie too much. It always manages to stay interesting, but usually for the wrong reasons. The performances (with the exception of Slater and a surprisingly natural Verne Troyer) are all turned up to eleven, with Hannah and Balthazar Getty committing some of the most hilariously overwrought film acting in recent memory. Kilmer plays sleazy well when he wants, but sprinkles in scenes where he babbles a mile a minute like a speed freak, for no discernible reason.

There are also laughs to be had at the expense of the film’s obviously low budget. The many shots of characters driving employ some hilariously bad green-screen backgrounds. The film also never lets on where it’s supposed to take place. The city and surrounding areas change wildly from scene to scene. One moment, the action appears to be taking place in Los Angeles, the next New York City, then Vancouver, and finally, rural Oklahoma. I wish the filmmakers had embraced this bizarre hodgepodge of filming locations and just given us a title that said: Anytown, U.S.A.

The unnecessarily convoluted plot also provides a few laughs. As the twists pile up, they make less and less sense. Characters are introduced, show a few bizarre quirks, and are then quickly killed off. A Hispanic immigrant drifts through the movie, introducing himself to strangers, only to be shown the worst that the city has to offer. I kept waiting for him to have an impact on the plot. He finally does at the end, but his actions make no sense. It’s a bizarre attempt at a comedic button that is funny, but for all the wrong reasons.

If it sounds as though I enjoyed the film, I suppose I did. It brought unintentional laughter more than once, which is worth some entertainment value. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a good film. By all systems of measurement, Hard Cash is a rotten film. It would make great fodder for the late, great Mystery Science Theater 3000, but as a serious-minded heist film, it falls flat on its face.

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