Cruel tone undermines Wayans brothers' charm in 'Mo' Money'

July 28, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Whatever values "Mo' Money" may lack, ambition isn't one of them.

It's a 90-minute triple feature: There's a movie in here about a young man's crossover into mainstream society empowered by no less a force than love, another one that's a dark and violent thriller about a sophisticated credit card scam, and a third that's a raucous comedy about two brothers doing a trip on the Man.

There's no doctrinaire reason why three separate personalities can't inhabit a single body; it just doesn't work very well here, and there's an ugly streak of misogyny running through it that somewhat undercuts the material and denudes it of any joy.

Damon Wayans, who wrote the screenplay, plays the irrepressible Johnny Stewart, orphaned son of a Chicago policeman who in a cloud of hubris and larceny makes a living running one sordid scam after another, frequently using his brother Seymour (real-life Wayans brother Marlon, equally irrepressible) as front man. When, however, he meets Amber (Stacey Dash) he decides to straighten out and gets himself a job -- by lying -- at her firm, a credit card corporation.

But it turns out that the straight world is just as crooked as the crooked world. Security chief Keith Heading (John Diehl, who used to be a good guy on "Miami Vice") is running a sophisticated scam to peel $30 million away from the parent company;anyone who gets in his way gets dead. This means that the movie, being advertised as a comedy, features several extremely violent killings.

Wayans is talented; he's able to range from total goof to sensitive and haunted young man to kick-butt action hero without a lot of fuss while staying convincing in all three modes. Moreover, the script is well-structured, the three components reflecting vividly off each other even if none of them feel completely developed. (The credit card scam might have made a whole, and very interesting, movie on its own.)

But "Mo' Money" is coarse to the point of being insulting. The killings are grotesque beyond any necessity; larceny is dismissed as a boyish prank rather than a felony. But worst of all, Almayvonne plays a libidinous colleague of Johnny's who is trashed for close to 90 minutes for the sin of ugliness. The movie inflates the horror of encountering an unattractive woman in a way that's beyond sexism and well into abject cruelty. This poor woman is treated like a comic Medusa, as if to look upon her is to be instantly ossified.

However charming the Wayans brothers are, and whatever riches lie ahead for them, they should both be ashamed of the cruelty that resides in "Mo' Money."

'Mo' Money'

Starring Damon Wayans and Stacey Dash.

Directed by Peter MacDonald.

Released by Columbia.

Rated R.

**

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