It's Christmas time in New York, and as night has fallen, the festive lights are lit around the city with the cold biting those braving the weather, including one drunk who stumbles down onto the subway and collapses onto a bench, mumbling a carol until he passes out. But he's not actually a drunk, he is an undercover police officer who is posing as a drunk to snare anyone who would seek to rob someone incapacitated in such a way, and his partner is watching from a concealed hideaway to leap into action. They are in fact brothers, John (Wesley Snipes) and Charlie Robinson (Woody Harrelson), foster brothers that is, and one of them is wilder than the other...
One of those Christmas movies that's handy to carry over to New Year as well, since it's midnight on New Year's Eve that the plot ends up at, Money Train was originally a reasonably anticipated reteaming of Snipes and Harrelson after the hit comedy White Men Can't Jump. It's a mark of how difficult it can be to find a decent vehicle to pair two stars in when you see that this was nowhere near as good, and that they were never paired again as the stars of their own would-be blockbuster, for nothing here really settled or seemed fitting, it was more of a thrown together bunch of thriller movie parts with a smattering of comedy that was beneath the actors, and some buddy flick bonding.
It was a buddy movie at heart, it had to be said, yet the rapport that Ron Shelton had brought out in them was missing in action here under the direction of Joseph Ruben, no stranger to the thriller genre but failing to get a grasp on what would have succeeded. It was indicative of how all over the place Money Train was that a subplot about a firebug serial killer (Chris Cooper) trying to incinerate ticket booth operators could have made a perfectly fair main plot, but here was simply added to beef up the running time because it was clear they did not have enough story for a whole two-hour production, and were reduced to adding random bits of not very exciting action to have something on the screen.
Never a good way to go about a work with suspense and spectacle at its supposed heart, but the money train of the title, a vehicle that carries the cash gathered from the day's fares, did not feature a tremendous amount either, not until the last act where all Charlie's mutterings about divining a method of robbing the thing came to fruition. Yes, it was yet another nineties heist movie, that most beloved subgenre of crime drama of this decade where just when you thought you had seen every variation possible along would come some other variation on liberating the riches from a bank vault, or a casino, or an armoured car, or whatever else they could wring out of a severely overplayed hand. In this case, that would be The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and that last confrontation in Speed.
But before we got there, a lot of half-hearted footering about was on offer, presented with a festive appearance the film proceeded to do absolutely nothing with, but made it a middling bet if you wanted a Christmas action movie that wasn't Die Hard and you were really desperate for that combination in one package. Jennifer Lopez was the love interest in a triangle with Snipes and Harrelson, another cop who charms them both and because this was early in her career had a naked love scene with Snipes, as she didn't have enough clout for a no nudity clause in her contract, but there was precious little else to her character than that, acting as cheerleader for them both and present as the most perfunctory of decoration. The soul of the piece was intended to be this conflict between the two brothers, but that chemistry they had before evaporated here, leaving easy to watch but easier to forget malarkey, and Robert Blake doing his best to steal the picture as the asshole supervisor which justified the lawbreaking (according to this, if your boss is obnoxious, it's fine to steal from him and attack him - merry Christmas!). Music by Mark Mancina.