During the waning days of bloated buddy cop action films came Money Train, a movie with late eighties sensibilities designed to appeal to fans of the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon series, except by 1995 any film evoking those films was instantly stale. Remember: Tango & Cash, which played the buddy combo to comic book proportions, came out in 1989. Money Train also has one major after-effect: one will lose irreplaceable brain cells that’ll be important during the geriatric years.
The concept of two ill-treated subway cops screwing their cruel boss by stealing $3 million in New Year’s Eve transit revenue is perfectly fine, but realistic characters were striken from the script to ensure the film would never besmirch the NYC transit system.
In Doug Richardson and David Loughery's script, the two heroes – wiser black cop John (Wesley Snipes), self-described fuck-up Charlie (Woody Harrelson) – are possessed the by spirit of verbally grating teenagers, and Money Train is actually part of Richardson’s juvenile triple threat, completed by Die Hard 2 (1990) and the grating Bad Boys (1995). Loughery’s background, however, is more varied, and spans Dreamscape (1984), the brat packed Three Musketeers (1993), and Snipes’ first real foray into mindless action, the Die Hard riff Passenger 57 (1992).
The lone girl in the cast, Grace Santiago (a baby-faced Jennifer Lopez), exists to create a faux divide between the two ersatz brothers who grew up together in a foster home. As that rivalry simmers, Charlie’s gambling problem turns lethal, forcing him to follow through with a crazy plan to rob the system’s eponymous money train to pay off a $15,000 debt to a local mob man, and sneak off to a tropical paradise.
Being a screw-up means John has to save his idiot brother from death or maiming, but the two have managed to succeed as transit cops in spite of their unorthodox behaviour – a pattern of goofing around and tongue-in-cheek law enforcement reminiscent of another iconic buddy (and equally dated) cop film, Running Scared (1986).
The script only deals with bonehead archetypes – of which glowering boss Donald Patterson (Robert Blake) is genuinely amusing – and spends way too much time indulging in strained, unfunny banter that seemed designed to exploit Harrelson’s recent popularity from TV’s Cheers. The action scenes also reflect Snipes’ increasing desire to interpolate his love of martial arts in every movie (the culmination being the Blade franchise). That’s probably why there are whole sequences that have no relation to the plot and literally pad the film to a nearly 2 hour running time, leaving the last 20 mins. for the actual heist.
Also wormed into the story is the ongoing threat of The Torch (greasy Chris Cooper), a loser who squirts gas onto female booth attendants before robbing the till. While the character could’ve been used to add a bit of grey drama to the film, he’s there to ignite action sequences, including a ridiculous shoot ‘em up where transit cops fire live rounds in crowded subway tunnels. Equally idiotic is John’s effort to stop Charlie from robbing the money train by riding his motorcycle into the subway system and onto the subway tracks.
Continuity screw-ups by the filmmakers are littered throughout scenes, but if taken as a goof, Money Train should work; the second unit action scenes are first rate, the combination of practical stunts and CGI s flawless, and John Lindley’s cinematography is stunningly beautiful. Even the formulaic score by Mark Mancina (Bad Boys) is less desperate to excite audiences than his music for Speed (1994), but there’s so much padding before the closing caper sequence that one starts to doubt whether the ending will never happen.
Sony’s DVD is bare bones, sporting a theatrical trailer and nothing else, but the transfer is quite clean, and the deeply saturated colours glows from the screen. The Dolby sound mix is fairly basic, and one suspects much of the SDDS mix’ oomph was heavily dulled down for the Dolby downgrade.
Joseph Ruben’s other films include Dreamscape (1984), The Stepfather (1987), True Believer (1989), and Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), and The Good Son (1993). Money Train was supervised by Jon Peters, the producer (surprise) of Tango & Cash, and the revisionist western/buddy movie flop Wild Wild West (1999).
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan