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Money Plane

by Alex Kirschenbaum Sep 20, 2020

This past summer’s VOD Lawrence Brothers sensation Money Plane marks a bit of a digression as a recommendation from this fan. It falls into one of those very lovable subcategories of critical appreciation this viewer likes to call the “Dumb Action Movie.” This cost-effective, near-camp shoot-em-up confection cheerfully weathers its budgetary and technical constraints to triumphantly become nothing but a good time.

The pitch: Expert thief and reformed gambler Jack Reese (star wrestler Adam “Edge” Copeland) and his crew of cunning co-conspirators (Katrina Norman, Patrick Lamont Jr., and writer/director Andrew Lawrence) are commissioned by two-timing tycoon The Rumble (a gravel-voiced Kelsey Grammer) to rob an illicit, high-stakes airplane casino, where a caravan of big money bettors gambles over a litany of cruel and unusual punishments to be doled out on hapless victims on the ground. Let’s just say that things go less-than-smoothly for our heroes aboard the jet carrying the most mustache-twirlingly over-the-top passengers witnessed onscreen since Con Air (1997).

It’s cost-effectively produced and deliberately cheesy, but all of that is part of its charm and re-watchability. Money Plane is a cheerfully kitschy pulp confection. The movie’s cheerfully pulpy navigation around its own limitations doubles as a crucial component of its entertainment value.

Kelsey Grammer, Thomas Jane (playing Harry, Jack’s best friend) and Denise Richards (playing Jack’s wife, Sarah) are the best known non-Lawrence commodities to most interested consumers, though Edge was clearly added due to the weight WWE stars carry with their rabid fans — especially when it comes to the VOD action market.

Grammer and Jane happily chew the scenery with aplomb, with Grammer going full Walter White and excellent The Movies That Made Me podcast guest Jane turning on flippant action hero mode.

Though Edge offers a good glower during Jack Reese’s various turns at playing poker and plotting his team’s several schemes, he is at his most fun in some intimate handheld combat sequences, where he can show off his impressive arsenal of WWE-abetted stunt work.

The Lawrence Brothers hold a special place in this critic’s heart. I am almost exactly the same age as director/writer/star Andrew Lawrence, and as a kid he was the closest thing I saw to myself on TV during their short-lived NBC/WB sitcom Brotherly Love (1995-1997). I didn’t even know Joey Lawrence’s actual star-making showcase, Blossom (1990-1995), was a thing until much later. A mischievous tyke with an overactive imagination, outfitted in plaid shirts and bowl haircuts, with a devout love for Jim Carrey, Batman, and monster masks, Andrew Lawrence’s Brotherly Love character Andy Roman circa 1995-1997 was more or less Alex Kirschenbaum circa 1995-1997. My brother and I watched probably every episode of that show in its second life on the Disney Channel.

So sue me if I am perhaps a bit preternaturally excited that Andrew Lawrence has entered this next phase of his career, making his directorial debut with Money Plane. Granted, the flick very much feels homemade, which is part of the reason it makes for such a fun hokey action romp. But Money Plane is clearly a labor of love, and it’s great to see that the Lawrences’ own brotherly love has endured well into adulthood.

Joey Lawrence, the eldest brother who plays the plane’s shifty master of ceremonies, known simply as The Concierge, noted in an extensive Alan Siegel oral history on the film for The Ringer that “Andy’s been making movies since he was about 4 years old. He would make a ton of home family movies. But they were movies. We filmed one movie at home for like six years, called Truth Can Kill.” Elsewhere in the piece, the other two Lawrence brothers are candid about the film’s frenzied production process. Andrew notes that producer Richard Switzer pivoted production on the project “from Romania, to Toronto, to Baton Rouge [Louisiana]. It was weeks before the thing was shooting. It was wild.”

Andrew elaborates on the movie’s seat-of-the-pants filming. “We were literally building the plane set while we were shooting,” he told Siegel. “We picked corners of the set that were built, and shot in those.” There is a certain “Let’s put on a show!” energy throughout the proceedings here, and these realities of the project’s creation speaks to its makers’ enthusiasm, hustle and moxie. That excitement radiates through the screen, for a movie self-aware enough to move quickly through its wild set pieces while embracing its shoestring vibrancy.