Directed by: Andrew Lawrence. Starring: Adam Copeland, Kelsey Grammer, Thomas Jane. Released: July 10, 2020. Runtime: 1h 22 min.
I love heist films so when I heard about Money Plane, I thought it would be some stupid B-movie fun. It is surely dumb, but it’s not fun. The story follows Jack Reese (retired wrestler Adam Copeland, a.k.a. Edge), a thief who’s $40 million in debt and is hired by Darius Grouch the Third, a.k.a. The Rumble (Kelsey Grammer) – which, frankly, sounds like a better wrestler’s name than Edge – to rob the titular Money Plane, a futuristic airborne casino with millions on board in cash and cryptocurrency, filled with “some of the baddest motherfuckers on the planet” on the plane, as Rumble explains it and tells Jack some of the betting that happens. “You wanna bet on a dude fucking an alligator? Money plane.”
The film’s weak attempts at comedy have more life than the film’s action scenes (strange for an action film), but everything here is boring. With its small budget, there’s nothing really high-concept about this film; and first hearing about it, its concept reminded me of the 2012 film Lockout, the one on the space prison. However, that film had a budget of $20 million which allowed it to feel authentic, and here, I think the entire budget was spent on Kelsey Grammer and Adam Copeland.
About its “high-concept,” there’s nothing futuristic about the Money Plane other than it’s an exclusive casino in the sky. It just looks like a normal casino on a plane. The sets here are awful and they have the same production value as a 70’s adult film, complete with the similar lighting. At no point is it convincing that this is actually filmed on an actual airplane, especially when Jack and his heist crew members Isabella (Katrina Norman) and Trey (Patrick Lamont Jr.) exit the plane and the plane door’s open to just darkness and there’s a wind machine going. This film would be equally awful if it were set on the ground, and the only reason it’s a casino in the sky is to make the premise more ridiculous and so it could have this title.
The title is why I wasted my time on this and got my attention. The fact that it’s directed and co-written by Andrew Lawrence is why it got my curiosity. He was on on the 90’s sitcom Brotherly Love with his brothers Matthew Lawrence (Boy Meets World, The Hot Chick) and Joey Lawrence (TV’s Blossom) who also have supporting roles in this film. Andrew Lawrence acts as one of the heist crew members, Iggy, who’s the tech guy on the ground during the operation, but he gets little to do. His acting is stronger than his writing and directing here, though. The action scenes are sloppily shot and choreographed and so awkwardly directed – especially an awkward fight scene in the cockpit with Jack and the co-pilot – and the writing is terrible, from the dialogue to execution of the concept. The blame isn’t solely on him, there, co-writing this with Tim Schaaf, but you can tell where Lawrence wrote his own voice in, like when he comments on his own premise when Jack explains the Money Plane plan and Iggy says, “It’s insane, I love it.”
The concept really is insane, and this film could be watchable with a larger budget and someone who could legitimately direct action. As it is, the project feels amateurish. The writing hurts the film the most as none of the characters are interesting and the heist itself is one of the most boring heists I’ve seen, devoid of any tension as the script mostly just wastes time with the betting games and the heist is basically just Isabella, disguised as a flight attendant, searching for the vault room. There are also a couple fights but it feels so uneventful. It’s such a wasted opportunity, especially when it’s pitched as a casino filled with very dangerous criminals and the criminals are more annoying than threatening and barely feel like legitimate threats to the characters. They’re barely involved in the story as villains except for one boring fight – and most of the criminals are just there to play the casino’s stupid games. The plot tries to add in some double crosses during the storyline but you can see everything coming a mile away.
Some of the writing is so stupid it’s kind-of funny. I enjoy the fact that Jack is a former poker player who has accumulated $40 million in debt playing high-stakes poker and now he’s robbing an airborne casino where he does, for one scene, play poker. We learn all this in an exposition-y scene with Jack and his best friend Harry (Thomas Jane in a bit role) and there’s this whole thing about Jack trusting his instincts. “Ever since I lost that hand, I don’t know if I can,” says Jack. About Adam Copeland, he seems like he’d be fine in other things like TV’s Vikings, but here his character is just so boring, defined solely as a family man trying to do right by them. Kelsey Grammer at least puts more into his performance because he’s just totally chewing the scenery in every scene he’s in, but the dialogue is so awful.
Anyway, Andrew Lawrence’s direction of just about everything from the action to basic conversations feels awkward, and as a poker enthusiast I found it sloppy when he actually showed us Jack playing a hand on the Money Plane. Remember, Jack is established as a strong poker player, but when he semi-bluff shoves against two opponents, it’s no wonder $40 million in debt. Still, on the plane it could just be an expensive punt so we can stop playing cards and get into the heist of the film, but I’m still undecided.
Jack’s bluff – he has a pair of fours on a dry board – gets called by a cowboy named JR Crockett (Matthew Lawrence who looks like Yosemite Sam here) and it’s the one somewhat funny thing in this film as he slams his hand on the poker table and says, “God damn it, thanks for making me feel alive, I call.” The drama in the hand is made more boring because the dealer doesn’t make them show their hands until showdown for ultimate drama even though they’re all-in.
The Money Plane is established as a legitimate casino that has an emphasis on rules – where The Concierge (Joey Lawrence) shoots a man in the back of head when he catches him cheating – and when I’m a viewer who knows how poker tables work, it’s annoying because that feels inaccurate to not show hands as soon as everyone’s all-in. I know I’m being nitpicky of a dumb B-movie called Money Plane that’s ridiculous through and through. To quote Andrew Lawrence’s own character T.J. Detweiler from Disney’s Recess, this film “whomps.”