Any movie that starts in a wax-fruit factory can't be all bad. "Funny Money," a screwball comedy starring Chevy Chase, has its charms, but to experience them requires patience.
Based on a West End hit, director and co-adapter Leslie Greif's film takes unfortunately long to get rolling. Once the farce finds its stride, however, it's generally worth the wait.
Chase plays "creature of habit" Henry Perkins, a factory executive in a rut so deep he can't see over the walls. This ordinary guy falls into an extraordinary situation when his briefcase gets switched for one stuffed with $5 million in illgotten gains. Before Henry and high-strung, aspiring-artist wife Carol (Penelope Ann Miller) can flee the country with the cash, they must navigate a crooked cop (Armand Assante, so grimy you can smell him), Romanian bad guys, a house full of guests and various others.
Farces like this don't worry their pretty little heads about cliches or logic (despite being one of the dullest men alive, Henry and his wife have dozens of hip young friends); they're all about pitch and pacing. The old briefcase switcheroo should take a couple of minutes to set up but here feels drawn out.
Strangely, Chase lacks energy early on. When he does get going, it's nice to see the comic actor in his element, desperately piling bigger and bigger lies higher and higher so they teeter precariously. Miller seems pushed until the movie catches up to her level.
Supporting players make some of the strongest impressions. As Henry's buddy Vic, Christopher McDonald finds the flow nicely. Alex Meneses as Vic's lusty wife, Gina, and Rebecca Wisocky as the debauched Mme. Virginia are right on time. When they all mesh in the mounting chaos, "Funny Money" gets its groove on.
The transformation from play to film isn't entirely successful, as the dialogue -- especially the exposition -- often sounds stagy. If indie distributor ThinkFilm ("Half Nelson," "Shortbus") seems an unlikely studio for a Chevy Chase farce, the movie does have its arty touches, such as the occasional use of split screen.
Greif gets in some good sight gags (including references to "The Exorcist" and "Dr. No") and as the film builds to its wild-party denouement, one expects to see swinging hipsters doing the frug. Sadly, it doesn't go quite that far.
"Funny Money." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time:
1 hour, 37 minutes. In general release.