True Crime Comedy: Money for Nothing (1993) - Reviewed

In February 1981, unemployed Philadelphian longshoreman Joey Coyle (John Cusack) found approximately $1.2 million in the middle of the street after it had fallen off of the back of an armored vehicle.  Instead of returning it, Joey decides to keep it before being arrested days later trying to escape conviction at the JFK Airport.  Only a couple of years after the incident, Walt Disney Studios began preproduction on what would become a comedy film dramatization of the events leading up to the arrest of Joey Coyle.  Despite years of development Hell, the project was finally completed in mid-1993. 
Loosely adapted from Mark Bowden’s 1986 Philadelphia Inquirerer article and subsequent book Finders Keepers, Money for Nothing is the hilarious and amazing tale of how one layman accidentally found a bag full of money and failed to keep his thievery of it a secret.  Something like a feature length episode of America’s Dumbest Criminals and predating Michael Bay’s own ultraviolent true crime comedy Pain and Gain, Money for Nothing is a compulsively watchable star studded ensemble comedy about an idiot who fritters away and blunders his fortunes before all but completely giving himself away. 

Co-starring Michael Madsen as the detective hot on Joey’s trail, Debi Mazar as his banker girlfriend, James Gandolfini, a young Philip Seymour Hoffmann and Benicio Del Toro as a small-time mobster, this ensemble piece directed by Ramón Menéndez (only two features to his name) is a deliriously entertaining comedy with some startlingly strong moments from both Cusack and Gandolfini.  Cusack makes Joey Coyle an endearing if not tragically stupid figure and while we can relate to the everyman’s desire to win untold riches, we can’t help but laugh at his moronic choices which led to his incarceration.
Visually the film looks splendid, shot in panoramic widescreen by eventual Drive cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel.  Though the film included Coyle himself as a consultant on the events of the film, much of the gory details are fictionalized or altered in some fashion for dramatic effects.  Despite contributing to the project, Coyle felt humiliated and embarrassed and subsequently took his own life just weeks before the film was set to release, prompting Disney to switch to a quieter theatrical rollout than initially as planned. 

In spite of these setbacks, Money for Nothing opened to dismal reviews and underperformed at the box office.  Years later, the film has garnered a small cult status as one of America’s most fascinating and delightfully entertaining true crime stories.  Moreover, the film asks what you would do in Joey Coyle’s shoes.  Do you keep the unclaimed millions or return it?  Moreover, if you do keep it, don’t do what this dumbass did with it.

--Andrew Kotwicki