From The Parallax Review Vaults: Money Train (1995)

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 Money Train was for the “On Cable” section of The Parallax Review.

by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor

Now Playing on Showtime Extreme

As a vehicle to capitalize on the chemistry that Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson displayed in White Men Can’t Jump, Money Train works. The duo display an uncanny ability to play off the other’s performance that is energizing with perfect comic timing. As an action-comedy, it’s a mess. By the time the chaotic, noisy third act rolls around, not even Snipes and Harrelson are able to rescue the film from its scattered story, lazy dialogue, and boring action scenes.

John (Snipes) and Charlie (Harrelson) are undercover transit cops working the New York City subway system. Raised by the same foster mother, John and Charlie consider themselves brothers, with John taking the older, responsible sibling role and Charlie playing the irresponsible little brother who both needs and resents his older brother’s help. They regularly clash with Patterson (Robert Blake, going five levels over the top), the practically psychotic head of the transit authority, and both nurse feelings for fellow officer Grace Santiago (Jennifer Lopez). Charlie is a compulsive gambler who owes $15,000 to some very scary people. Seeing how obsessed Patterson is with the money train (the train that carries the daily income from the subway stations), Charlie launches a plan to rob the train, killing two birds with one stone: Not only will he have more than enough to pay off his gambling debt, but it will be the ultimate insult to Patterson. The only question is whether John will help or stop Charlie.

For the first two acts, the film exists solely to allow John and Charlie to toss insults back and forth, moon over Grace, and get into fights — sometimes with each other. There is a loose nature to this section of the film that is partially due to Snipes and Harrelson’s ever-escalating back-and-forth. Unfortunately, it’s also partially due to some extremely sloppy editing and a poorly developed script. Beyond the fact that the film feels like it’s spinning its wheels, there is a bizarre subplot featuring a serial-arsonist known as “The Torch” (a distressingly creepy Chris Cooper) who likes to burn people alive with a highly flammable liquid. I kept waiting for that story to collide in some meaningful way with the main plot, and it never does. After just two appearances, “The Torch” is summarily killed by John and the film moves on as though nothing has happened.

By the time the actual robbery of the train began, I found that I had mentally checked out on the film. This is a real shame considering these scenes had the potential for some truly edge-of-the-seat excitement. But like every other action scene in the film, this sequence was clumsily shot, edited, and paced. And once again, the script lets the cast down, as the heist is a simple-minded affair that is pulled off too easily, and foiled with even more ease.

Director Joseph Ruben puts together such a good cast, it’s a shame that the movie surrounding them is so lackluster. With the exception of Blake, the main players do a great job of trying to pump some life into the proceedings. Ruben even peppers the cast with some great character actors (Enrico Colantoni, Dean Norris, Larry Gilliard, Jr., Bill Nunn), who are all perfect for their roles. But as always, a good cast can only do so much when the script is missing any intriguing elements.

For those who enjoy watching Snipes and Harrelson do their thing, Money Train is watchable. For anyone looking for a good action-comedy or heist film, they will find nothing but disappointment.

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