Review: It’s hard to stop thinking about the gruesome wreckage of the Money Plane

The Budget Is Not Enough

Every few years or so, some variation of this text invariably gets passed around by the internet’s olds: “Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm.” Of course, Cambridge never actually supplied that research, but in film form, Money Plane has.

The latest from genre thriller schlock huckster Quiver Entertainment is a cognitive psychology experiment of a D-movie. Can familiar elements be laid out into a coherent plot despite, on any remotely close inspection, being utter gobbledegook? With Money Plane, head scientist/director Andrew Lawrence (second in line to the Joey throne) was given a pro wrestler, Kelsey Grammer, Denise Richards, Thomas Jane, and, seemingly, about the cost of a used 2000 Lumina to find out. His results show surprising success; his fascinatingly abysmal film, not so much.

Money Plane cold opens on Jack Reese (the WWE’s Edge, aka Adam Copeland) just heading into his latest of what’s implied to be a history of heists. Six-foot five, 240 pounds, meter-long hair tied into a bun, undershirt poking out of his dress shirt, bug-eyed through unfitting glasses, he’s the most conspicuous-looking motherfucker in any room. This is him undercover, posing as an employee to steal a painting from a place on-screen text tells us is… “Art Museum.” Yes, THE Art Museum. Whatever area of Art Museum Jack is currently at is literally just a check-in desk, a metal detector, and an incredibly short hallway with four locked doors leading to small rooms with a single painting on full display on each wall. It’s classic Art Museum.

Jack has a support team outside, and through voiceover, he explains why: “It takes more than one flint to make a fire.” He will unironically repeat this later, which is weird, because it 100% takes one flint to make a fire. He presumably means “more than a flint”—you also need steel, something to catch the spark, and some tinder—but his non-saying nonetheless works in setting an accurate, early bar for exactly what level of writing to expect. It took four credited writers to make Money Plane, so who can blame these modern-day Promethei for wanting to reference their four-part harmony in bringing us the flames of this dumpster fire.

When Jack gets two steps past the metal detector and into the weird, dorm room-size gallery, he finds that the painting isn’t there. With nothing to steal, Jack doesn’t have a crime to commit, but for some reason security swarms him, machine guns in hand. The production didn’t spring for blanks, but sound effects and little digital flashes communicate that they’re ostensibly trying to kill him, and he narrowly escapes. (We’re later informed that this was a setup, though it’s completely unclear how that sets anyone up. Was Art Museum somehow in on the setup, risking their esteemed reputation as the only art museum? Why not just shoot him beforehand if that was the point?)

The failure of the theft is very upsetting to the crime boss Jack was working for. You can tell this guy is a boss because he smokes a cigar and is played by Boss star Kelsey Grammer. And you can tell he’s a criminal because he threatens to shoot Jack’s head into a blank canvas to make his own art, which is a bit he stole from Cunth in MacGruber. His name is Darius Emmanuel Grouch III, but because that isn’t quite cartoonish enough, he goes by “The Rumble.” Jack is in bigtime debt to the guy, and in failing to steal that painting, Grouch now wants Jack to rob—you guessed it—the MONEY PLANE. It’s a flying casino filled with cash and crypto; a place where the wealthiest of criminals can bet on the likes of “a man fucking an alligator” without the government’s insistence that only being done recreationally, no money changing hands. If Jack fails in this mission, Grouch is going to kill his child and wife. And his wife is Denise Richards, so she’s pretty hot.

Gathering his team together in an abandoned warehouse—just because that seems like a thing that happens in movies, right?—Jack spreads the Money Plane blueprints across a lone wooden crate and lays out his plan. His crew is straight out of the worst of the worst CBS procedurals, each an on-the-nose archetype and completely uninteresting at every level. Isabella (Katrina Norman) is the sexy safecracker and expert martial artist. Trey (Patrick Lamont Jr.) is the hacker and black comic relief. Director Lawrence’s Iggy is the wildcard smartass. Jack’s knuckle-headed skeleton of a plan? Once again cribbing from MacGruber, it amounts to “put on a disguise and ‘see what happens.’”

As shown on-screen, the idea is that Jack, pretending to be a bigtime human trafficker, will somehow sneak into the cockpit, brutally assault the innocent pilot, and take over the plane for reasons that are never fully clear. (That this more-hair-than-brains leader is unfamiliar with the idea of copilots indeed becomes an issue!) Grouch somehow got Isabella an overnight job as stewardess on the most clandestine flight on the planet, so she’ll just sneak off from serving drinks, find the presumably unguarded safe, crack it, and stuff the money in a duffel bag she magically produces. Trey, undercover as Jack’s henchman #1, will likewise just sorta sneak off, find the again presumably unguarded server room, and hack into the crypto wallets. Iggy is forced to stay behind and set up a remote antenna to receive Trey’s digital transmission. He could easily just set that up beforehand, and given that high-speed internet is later repeatedly on display on the Money Plane, his role is even more pointless than Jack’s.

That night, Jack, like Hollywood, bids farewell to Denise Richards. He also has a brief meet-up with Thomas Jane, a former comrade and a wise sage, which you can tell because he smokes a pipe instead of a cigar. At this point, we’re a quarter of the way into the film, and a good half of that has been spent with Edge in a chair, breathing second-hand smoke from a far more accomplished actor. But at last the taxiing is over. We’ve made it to the Money Plane runway.

Over stock footage of a sprawling airport’s bustling runways, a title blips on screen: MONEY PLANE TERMINAL – UNDISCLOSED LOCATION. Undisclosed to whom!? Like Jack just had to guess his way there? Or undisclosed to us, the audience? Like suddenly the movie that wouldn’t even assign a city to an art museum has advanced to now boasting about how utterly unplaceable everything else is? The Money Plane has its own terminal, but shhh, don’t tell anyone where it is. No one has noticed Money Plane Terminal tacked on to what is visibly a major national airport, and they intend to keep it that way.

Sorry to break the NDA, but the undisclosed location is a small, unadorned soundstage. Somehow even less convincing than the “art museum,” the “terminal” is a podium in front of a couple vertical lights meant to represent the fancy, no-expenses-spared metal detectors of the Money Plane Terminal. Some string lights have been stretched across its dirty concrete floor, and the rest of the place has been blocked off by a mix of black and blue curtains. Also sporting an old-fashioned chest full of forfeited guns, it’s less a terminal than a Soviet Tonight Show.

Through the curtains is a suspiciously similar room, where concierge Joey Lawrence hands out special little bracelets. Passengers are asked to pass their wrist through a couple pseudo-futuristic ring-light “scanners” to deposit their funds. The funds are somehow already on the bracelets, but now they have to for some reason do this extra step to deposit them into a different thing. Joey clearly does not run the most efficient Money Plane, but that character detail may at least explain why there’s millions in cash on-board an all-digital flying casino.

Anyway, one of those blue or black curtains seems to transport passengers straight into the cabin, where it’s revealed that the production design still had one more step to stumble down. The Money Plane is like a “classy” nightclub for ten-year-olds married a ten-year-old’s orthodontist’s office: a half-dozen varied and luxurious chairs forming a semi-circle; a couple large houseplants in the corners; a random abstract sculpture; and a bar stocked with both a rainbow assortment of Kool-Aid flavors and a lava lamp. The Money Plane doesn’t have seatbelts, which seems particularly egregious when our flaxen-haired hero seats himself beside a large floating-glass table.

Thankfully, Jack is spared being chopped in half by a glass disk when the takeoff is, of course, shown entirely in exterior stock footage. At this point, you wouldn’t think Lawrence would find that any more glaringly unbelievable than anything else he’s thrown at us, but for some reason he hangs a lampshade on this particular nonsense.

“Now that is a smoooooth takeoff,” announces a beaming passenger. 

“Obliged,” Joey Concierge says. “We employ the finest pilots in the world. I know because I myself… am a pilot.” This never comes up again, but never let it be said that these aren’t fully-drawn characters with rich backstories.

The other key passengers on Money Plane are the most hackneyed depictions of the rich and criminal imaginable. There’s a gold chain-sporting Russian mobster; a loud, cowboy hat-wearing Texan (the middle child of the Lawrence Bros.); and a mysterious Asian woman. There’s also the Russian’s goon, whose main thing is that he’s homophobic and keeps trying to commit sexual assault. (Again, fully-drawn characters.) The group, Jack in tow, waste no time in getting to the Money Plane’s legendary gambling. And it could not be more of a letdown.

Mr. Kelsey Grammer telling us one could bet on a man fucking an alligator—however one might bet on that—set the bar high, and the first event does not even attempt to reach that height, even as its furniture does.

The game? Poker. They play poker. Bond-style, first it’s used to learn a bit more about our villains, but then it devolves into a whole drumbeat-fueled montage where we’re just watching these assholes play poker at a table that comes up to their goddamn shoulders. The results of these games could not have less bearing on the heist, but yeah, let’s devote a good chunk of this scant, 80-minute trash to see who wins a pointless winner-take-all poker tournament.

To be fair, the Money Plane’s games do quickly escalate. While Jack is off discovering the concept of copilots, Trey plays Russian roulette, and later bets on how long men can last pitted against first a snake and then piranhas (mortality-wise, not sexually). Here’s the thing‚ though: none of the human-animal fighting (nor fucking) happens on the plane. These people flew into international airspace expressly for the fuzzy legality, and now they’re just watching all the illicit acts on some shitty little eight-inch tablets. By and large, the Money Plane is a cramped, bog standard casino with a LiveLeak account.

There’s a general rule when it comes to how big heists unfurl on the screen. If the audience is left in the dark about the plan, the plan works out, and we get to learn how they do it; if the plan is detailed beforehand, it invariably goes off the rails. Money Plane aims for a middle-ground and nails its landing about as well as its feigned takeoff. The elaborate “somehow sneak around a narrow aircraft and break into stuff” scheme does hit a few snags, but absolutely every hiccup is solved immediately and in the exact same way: brutal murder. Copilot unexpectedly(?) turns up? Beat him to death. Dude catches you breaking into the safe? Rip his fucking ears off. Some hired mercs show up to take down your completely needless antenna? Call in Tom Jane for a drone strike. That is to say, a strike from a cheap quadcopter with an actual pistol attached to it. (Not without its real-world precedent, it turns out.) Their plan B is just plan A with extra ears.

Money Plane ultimately feels like an “I forced a bot to watch over 1,000 hours of heist movies” meme realized by way of NBC’s 1995 fall sitcoms Frasier and Brotherly Love. So many familiar tropes are crammed together into a laughably preposterous pastiche, an accidental [Money] Airplane! doomed before it left the ground. It’s not quite so-bad-it’s-good, but its badness—and its strangeness—is oddly captivating. The mind can’t help but linger on an inscrutable (in more ways that one) day-for-night action scene that plays a Naked Gun 2½ gag straight; ponder whether it’s possible that airplane cockpits actually do have FM radios that get reception at 35-thousand feet; lose it as Jane chops carrots on a piece of slate, prepping for a simmering marinara that bubbles with a sound one can only describe as “definitely just someone’s mouth doing that”; and marvel at the slow realization that the initial setup at the museum is both unnecessary and completely counterproductive to the double-crosser. And that’s all before Money Plane sets itself up for a sequel!

The Ryanair of heist flicks, Money Plane is incredibly cheap, poorly made at just about every level, and surrounds you with unlikable characters. Yet its journey is so mercifully short, it can actually be sort of fun if you spend it drunk and shouting alongside a friend.

Grade: F+

Money Plane
Director: Andrew Lawrence
Studio: Quiver Entertainment
Runtime: 82 minutes
Rating: R
Cast: Adam Copeland, Kelsey Grammer, Thomas Jane, Katrina Norman, Patrick Lamont Jr., Andrew Lawrence, Joey Lawrence

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