There's a story that's been circulated for years, probably apocryphal, about a woman who was ordering an ice cream cone in an upscale shop one day when Paul Newman walked in. Briefly flustered, she didn't fawn over him or make a big deal out of it; she just got her change and left. A few minutes later she returned, explaining to the counterman that she had forgotten her cone. "Lady," Newman cracked, "it's in your purse."
That story gains resonance while you're watching "Where the Money Is." Newman plays a stroke patient in the movie, a role that wouldn't seem to lend itself to an animal magnetism that has lost nothing in over four decades. But all it takes is one glance from those eyes, one brief, "Hud"-worthy grin, to make knees go weak. Every time Newman takes the screen, it's a lovely little heart attack.
In "Where the Money Is," Newman plays Henry, who has just been admitted to a slightly gone-to-seed nursing home. There he comes under the care and feeding of Carol (Linda Fiorentino), who discovers that Henry is actually a former bank robber who has been transferred to the hospital from prison.
Pretty soon Carol, who is bored by the small-town dreams of her prom-king husband Wayne (Dermot Mulroney), is scheming to find one last caper for Henry to pull off before he accepts his fate of endless Bingo games and "sipping green Jell-O through a straw."
Newman's role as a stroke patient at first glance seems to be a shameful waste of his talents, but rest assured that it provides him with some nifty small moments, as well as a few of the most memorable entrances and exits of his career.
"Where the Money Is" is devoid of that ineffable quality Hollywood calls "edge" (a polite term for gratuitous blood and profanity). Instead it's just another modest, unsurprising little heist flick, directed with too much self-conscious visual style and too many contrivances by ad-man Marek Kanievska.
So why is it so much fun? Why do Fiorentino and Mulroney, both appealing actors but neither at their best here, seem to shine in some greater reflected light? Why will audiences walk out of the theater oddly cheered and satisfied?
The answer, lady, is in your purse.
'Where the Money Is'
Starring Paul Newman, Linda Fiorentino, Dermot Mulroney
Directed by Marek Kanievska
Rated PG-13 (sexual content)
Running time 89 minutes
Released by USA Films
Sun score: ***