The mere presence of Paul Newman in the cast elevates what
would otherwise be a modest, TV-movie-of-the-week-standard
caper flick to a higher level of interest. In the picture by
the none-too-prolific Marek Kanievska (“Another Country,”
“Less Than Zero”), who directs here in an amiable, unforced,
almost shuffling style, the aging but still remarkably charismatic
star plays Henry Manning, a legendary thief who feigns a
stroke to get transferred from prison to a nursing home, from
which he intends shortly to escape. He’s eventually unmasked,
however, by saucy rehab nurse Carol Ann McKay (Linda Fiorentino),
who effectively blackmails him into masterminding an armored-
car heist which would profit her and her husband Wayne (Dermot
Mulroney), a brawny but not awfully brainy sort, as well as
Henry himself.

What follows is a genial but extraordinary gentle, almost
placid geriatric version of “The Sting,” so predictable and
unthreatening that it almost seems to come out of another era.
Compare “Where the Money” is to an characteristically edgy
modern robbery tale like “Reservoir Dogs” and its old-fashioned
quality is immediately apparent. There’s no nasty language,
to begin with, and violence is kept to an absolute minimum.
There are a few sexual allusions, but apart from one rolling-
around-in-bed sequence between Fiorentino and Mulroney–done
in a style which, by today’s standards, can only be described
as chaste–nothing is explicit. Even the obligatory vomit
scene–which seems for some reason to be compulsory in
contemporary cinema–occurs discreetly off-screen, heard but
not seen.

On the other hand, there’s much sweet, calculated nursing-home
humor, complete with a bevy of colorfully eccentric old ladies
playing bingo and engaging in wheelchair exercises to elicit
warm chuckles (and occasionally showing signs of a wink-and-nod
sexual interest in men for an easy laugh). When the actual
robbery occurs, moreover, it’s portrayed in such a laid-back
fashion that it engenders only the mildest of tension. And, of
course, there’s a cute twist at the end designed to elicit a
universal “Aw!”

One can imagine that if this stuff were done in the ham-
fisted way one usually sees on television (on a Sunday night
“Hallmark Hall of Fame” special, for instance) it would have
been pretty much intolerable. Henry, for one, might have
become an insufferable figure. But Newman plays him without
sentiment or overstatement, using the wonderful stillness
he’s mastered to make the character charming–a bit gruff,
of course, but also enormously attractive and likable. It’s
hardly one of his greatest performances, but managing to make
what’s basically a cantankerous old coot something less than a
caricature is a considerable achievement (Newman didn’t manage
the feat in “Message in a Bottle,” for instance.)

As for Fiorentino and Mulroney, they’re capable enough, but
nowhere in the same league. Neither character is particularly
well written, so their motivations (and even their relationship)
never seem real. And while Fiorentino is still a lovely,
exciting screen presence, she doesn’t bring Carol alive as
fully as she did the siren of “The Last Seduction,” to use
but one example. Mulroney is handsome and gets Wayne’s
bluffness across, but beside Newman he fades into the scenery.

“Where the Money Is,” with its leisurely pacing, inoffensive
manner and spotlighting of Paul Newman, should appeal especially
to older audiences, and if they can be lured into theatres
from their comfortable living-rooms, they’ll enjoy it. Even
the employment of a couple of tunes by The Cars to juice up
the soundtrack, however, won’t make it any more exciting to
the younger crowd, who will probably find the picture, despite
its short 89-minute running-time, distinctly pokey.