Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Free Money (1998)

There are two types of "so good it's bad" movies. There's the ones that clearly has a film crew behind it trying to make the best movie they can but just lack the talent/self examination to do so (Troll 2, Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Room). Then there are the movies that are trying to be bad, knowing their audience is going to be stoned college kids watching their movies on Netflix that the filmmakers create while giggling to themselves (Snakes on a Plane, all the Leprechaun movies, anything Tommy Wiseau has done after The Room). The difference between the two is usually that the former are discovered years after they came out as some weird anomaly while the latter force how wacky they are down our throats.

With these choices in front of us, I have no idea which camp Free Money falls into. It's labeled a black comedy, it's clearly trying to be funny. Yet it's also trying to be the type of arty action thriller people in the 90s thought was really cool. It desperately wants to be Pulp Fiction or Fargo. Instead it's a poorly structured, fairly dull movie.

Except for one thing. The thing that turns Free Money into an unbridled gigglefest, that makes the stupid into the sublime, that uses a taser on Charlie Sheen to punish him for farting in Church, which clearly needs to be on some sort of AFI list. That force of nature is none other then Marlon Brando.

I honestly have no knowledge as to how I came into knowledge of this movie. All I know is that it somehow got it's way onto my Netflix Instant queue, even though I'm fairly certain I didn't put it in there. Was it fate? Maybe the ghost of Marlon Brando himself? I have no idea, but while browsing through my very long list of movies to watch my eye was drawn to a movie made in 1998 with Mr. Brando, Charlie Sheen, Thomas Hayden Church, and Donald Sutherland, all advertized in big letters on the cover. How had I never heard of this? How was a movie with this cast never been mentioned, especially thanks to my infatuation with both Brando and Sutherland?

The opening scene is a pretty good litmus test for whether or not the movie is worth sticking around for. The twin daughters of Marlon Brando, who is about the size of a blimp, bald, and sporting a red mustache that makes him a cross between Paul Giamatti and Wilford Brimley, telling him they're both pregnant which causes him to go into a near intelligible rant using a ridiculous Southern accent about how they were drugged and raped before leading to a shotgun wedding with the two schmucks, played by a smug Charlie Sheen and a weirdly offputting looking Thomas Hayden Church. If by now you're rolling your eyes, this might not be the movie for you.

In true mens rights activist fashion, it turns out the schmucks were lied to and the girls weren't pregnant at all! They just wanted a chance to nab a man, so they lied to get those two boys locked in. Just like what happened to that friend of your cousin so really we need to reform child support laws. Who would have ever thought Charlie Sheen could be involved in something so blatantly misogynistic?

Oh, and while this is going on, we learn that Marlon Brando, called "The Swede" in the movie but I'm just going to continue calling him Marlon Brando, is the warden at the local prison where he rules with an iron fist. At the behest of a local judge, played by Donald Sutherland who obviously didn't get the memo and is trying far too hard for a movie like this, Brando lets a prisoner loose who was convicted by the judge and subsequently threatened his FBI agent daughter so that Brando could kill him. Because he apparently couldn't kill him in prison, but if he does so while outside the prison it's okay? Like I said, this movie is really poorly thought out.

Meanwhile, the two twins start to miss their daddy and decide to move back in with him, bringing their husbands in tow. This is where the movie really starts to lose it. Brando is apparently some big religious nut, enough to have the words "JESUS SAVES" tattooed to the back of his skull. So while living under his roof, the "stinkball fornicators," which is a phrase you had best get used to, have to sleep in separate bedrooms and can only have sex once a month. At one point Charlie Sheen breaks this rule, causing Brando to smash through his bedroom door like The Hulk.

When I said Brando is the shining star of this movie, this is what I mean. He is fucking NUTS! If you look at Brando's filmography after Apocalypse Now it's pretty clear he just didn't give a fuck anymore, and this movie exemplifies that mindset. He manages to be crazier here than in The Island of Dr. Moreau, and there he has a fetus like creature as his miniture companion. Brando is off the wall here, whether it's him tasing butts, yelling about his prized truck, breaking through walls, yelling "LAKE OF FIRE!" at random, falling into pee-soaked toilets, or delivering pearls such as "I'm going to find this man, and I'm going to eat his brains with a teaspoon." If this movie had just been Brando as The Swede for an hour and a half, it would easily be a cult classic.

Too bad the rest of the movie is so fucking boring and tonely sour. The first half of the movie is pretty light, give or take a Brando, with the main plot revolving around Sheen and Hayden Church robbing a train and living the lavish life, which here is shown by having Charlie Sheen walk into a restaurant and, not only order a meal and four beers, but a whole cake! Woah, slow down there moneybags, don't spend it all at once! But eventually, Sheen is caught by the Swede after throwing all that money around (he really should have gone for the turkey special instead of the roast beef, the fool) and is sent to prison by the blackmailed judge for...underage fornication. Here's where the movie should have ended. Well really it should have ended about an hour ago but here's where it could have ended.

Then, OUT OF NOWHERE, Charlie Sheen's wife has a miscarriage! Just like that! It's completely unearned and just seems to happen so that the twin doesn't have a baby so she can cheat on him with some high school boy. Truly, a nuanced view of how ladies be losing babies then slutting it up all over town.

The movie kind of peters off a the end, with only a scene of Brando hitting a lady with her own shoe to really cap off the craziness. Free Money is a mess. A tonal, structural, complete fucking mess. And despite Brando's antics, it's not even worth a watch soley for that because it's surrounded with so much blah. It sits in between the two kinds of "so bad it's good" movies, with most of it being the filmmakers trying so damn hard to be campy and cool but falling flat. Only Brando's genuine madness makes any of this more than a footnote in the long list of Direct-to-Video crapola. On the stupid, stupid Wicker Scale, which isn't accurate by any means, Marlon Brando and Nicholas Cage are exchanging tips on the best goofy facial hair.

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