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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Mo' Money' Overdoses on Blood, Guts

July 27, 1992|MICHAEL WILMINGTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Mo' Money" (citywide) is les' funny. It's a movie hybrid. Starting out as a sort of lower-class black "Sting," it moves into a lackluster retread of "Strictly Business" and ends up grabbing at the last scraps of the "Lethal Weapon" knockoff sweepstakes.

Written by and starring the chameleonic Damon Wayans, "Mo' Money" has a promising start: A couple of Chicago street con artists (Damon and brother Marlon Wayans) stumble into a major scam, when Damon's Johnny Stewart falls for credit-card company executive Amber Evans (Stacey Dash).

But the comedy gets derailed into big-movie pyrotechnics: high-tech bloodshed, superpowered carnage. We don't just get credit-card scams; we get an evil criminal empire.

Suddenly, everyone is pulling out guns: The whole movie gets mean, ugly and brashly overconfident. The humor is short-shrifted: smashed, bashed and car-crashed to death. Mo' blood, mo' guts but not much mo' better.

Damon Wayans is best known for the hit TV satire "In Living Color" and his co-starring turn with Bruce Willis in "The Last Boy Scout"--an empty buddy cop show, whose Shane Black script was notable mainly for the money it cost and the adolescent wisecracks that were all it had to sell. Here, it looks as if Wayans' "Boy Scout" side won out over his "Living Color" side: a real miscalculation.

As the movie winds on, surging toward its mano-a-mano , jump-on-the-car-roof, death-wrestle climax, even the comedy gets meaner and coarser. It's one thing to laugh at the gulling of a foul-mouthed bigot, tricked into buying an empty TV box. It's another to laugh at (single-name) actress Almayvonne's Charlotte getting kicked out of bed by Marlon Wayans because she's too ugly, and then thrown into the hallway with two bucks shoved under the door. Or to try to chuckle at the Wayans brothers during a joint gay impersonation at a jewelry store, coughing all over the salespeople to exploit their fear of AIDS.

When Keenen Ivory Wayans made "I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka"--with Damon in the cast--he was satirizing the macho blaxploitation thriller excesses of an earlier era, which he obviously also enjoyed. But "Mo' Money" doesn't have that light an approach; it moves right into the Uzi-in-the-gut realm of Arnold Schwarzenegger one-liners. The director, Peter Macdonald, is best known for "Rambo III"--a super-action movie that was unintentionally funny--and he seems more comfortable with shocks than yocks.

There are amusing things in "Mo' Money" (rated R for language, sensuality and violence)--the chemistry of the Wayans team, the paterfamilias routine of Joe Santos as a good cop, the piquant sexiness of Stacey Dash--but they get steamrollered by all the high-tech crash-bang movie machismo . This comedy about a couple of con artists winds up conning itself. There isn't always a pot of gold at the end of those blood-drenched rainbows.

'Mo' Money'

Damon Wayans: Johnny Stewart

Stacey Dash: Amber Evans

Joe Santos: Lt. Raymond Walsh

John Diehl: Keith Heading

A Columbia Pictures presentation of a Wife N' Kids production. Director Peter Macdonald. Producer Michael Rachmil. Executive producers Damon Wayans, Eric Gold. Screenplay Wayans. Cinematographer Don Burgess. Editor Hubert C. La Bouillerie. Costumes Michelle Cole. Songs Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis. Music Jay Gruska. Production design William Arnold. With Marlon Wayans. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (language, sensuality, violence).

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