“You know, we are not getting along.”
In MONEY TRAIN that legendary comedy duo of Wesley and Woody play John and Charlie, brothers who are both New York City transit cops who play by their own rules. They get into fist fights with other cops (for example over the fatal shooting of a guy who only snatched a chain), Woody has a gambling addiction, and when they chase a suspect onto the tracks it slows down the train that delivers the apparently millions of dollars of subway fare, getting them on the shit list of Captain Patterson (Robert Blake, Our Gang).
Then they get assigned a new partner. Somebody who’s uptight and doesn’t like their methods, right? No, actually she’s really cool, works well with them and even hangs out with them at the bar after work. The trouble is she’s Jennifer Lopez, so they fight over her.
This is an interesting movie because it doesn’t stick to one formula. It was originally developed by Tony Scott, with a script by Doug Richardson (DIE HARD 2, BAD BOYS, HOSTAGE). When director Joseph Ruben (THE STEPFATHER) took over he apparently had it rewritten by David Loughery, which makes sense ’cause he’d worked with him on DREAMSCAPE and Snipes had worked with him on PASSENGER 57.
I don’t know for sure that that’s the reason why, but it’s kind of like two movies in one. It’s a cop movie combined with a heist movie where they’re both the cops that are trying to catch the bad guy and the heisters trying to separate the money of the title from the train of the title. So there’s three antagonists: a psycho called “The Torch” (Academy Award winner Chris Cooper) who likes to spray gasoline into the toll collection booths to light transit employees on fire, the gangsters who Woody owes money to, and Patterson, who’s such a fucking asshole. He chews them out, threatens them, fires them, spits on them. He knowingly (and against the advice of others) endangers cops and citizens in the name of making sure “his” money always arrives on time.
Blake, who had probly never killed anyone at that point, is so good, so despicable. He’s not a sputtering POLICE ACADEMY style angry superior officer who you laugh at, he’s actually pretty scary. But then he has this moment at the end where the train has crashed and flipped and he’s waiting to see if they’ve caught the thieves… and his lips are quivering. He’s nervous!
It makes him more human.
Context: Wesley and Woody had already co-starred in WILDCATS and WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP. Snipes was already doing action movies (PASSENGER 57, DEMOLITION MAN, DROP ZONE), but this was three years before BLADE. Harrelson had done NATURAL BORN KILLERS the year before, so he was already beginning to stretch from his lovable hayseed persona. It had been a couple years since Blake had even done a TV movie, and 15 years since a theatrical one. His only role since has been that terrifying scene in LOST HIGHWAY. Lopez had done a bunch of TV but this was her first co-starring role in a real movie. I was surprised to realize this was before ANACONDA, because she seems more comfortable here. Two years later she starred in SELENA and the year after that OUT OF SIGHT.
Alot of MONEY TRAIN is about the Wesley and Woody relationship: Woody being envious of older brother getting everything, including J-Lo; Wesley being sick of having to bail out his fuck up little brother. I think part of the magic of Woody and Wesley is this color blind or post-racial type of brotherhood. They’re true brothers, they care about each other, but also fight, and the fact that they’re different races barely comes up except when mentioned by assholes (Patterson and one black friend of Wesley’s).
It’s actually kinda remarkable that they don’t make a bunch of jokes about “wh-WHUH!? Brothers!?” That’s what you expect. And I’m sure they would’ve done that in CONFUCIUS JONES, the movie that was developed for a long time where Wesley would’ve been the half-brother of Jackie Chan. But here you’re just asked to accept that yes, Wesley found Woody in an alley and his (foster?) mother adopted him. What’s more, Woody never tries to prove any hood cred, he doesn’t try to use black slang or accents. They’re just themselves and they grew up together and they accept each other as they are.
But the existence of racism isn’t completely ignored. In the action highlight of the movie Wesley gets to go BLADE on a bunch of guys, and he saves the 360 degree spin-kick-to-the-face-knocking-a guy-through-a-window for the one who called him the n-word.
The biggest racial incident goes by in a weirdly off-handed way. The chain snatcher they’re chasing in the opening is a young black man. When he runs toward the money train the mostly white cops guarding it all unload into him, even as Wesley and Woody are yelling for them not to shoot. They continue to fire even after their bullets have sent him flying backwards and doing a complete somersault. Wesley and Woody are pissed, they know this is an injustice, they yell at the officers and then get in a brawl with them over it.
But then it cuts to them in trouble at the captain’s office. It reduces the whole incident to just our boys being misunderstood and rowdy. The little rascals. We’re definitely supposed to be mad about Patterson making the decision to keep the money train running when he knows officers are on the track, but we must not be supposed to worry about the policy that leads to an unarmed petty thief being executed on the spot, because we never hear about it again.
Later on there’s an old white lady that pickpockets thousands of dollars from Woody. Would’ve been interesting if she got too close to the money train. And by the way, Radio Raheem himself, Bill Nunn, has a small part driving one of the trains. He speaks up about an injustice, but not the death of that kid. I don’t think anybody found out about it.
For transit cops Wesley and Woody sure do get alot of action. Their usual job is going undercover as intoxicated transients to entrap muggers. Yet they’re ending up in chases with their guns out, the Torch running through crowds, pushing everyone over. “Out of the way!” They always do that in movie foot chases. I guess the idea is that knocking over people creates obstacles for the pursuer to trip on and get tangled up in. Seems like a big risk of pissing off people and causing them to grab you, in my opinion.
One silly bit is when Woody fires a warning shot into the air. The sound freaks out a carriage-drawing horse, and Woody sees some oblivious little kids eating ice cream and crossing the street in the horse’s path, so he has to run and tackle them. Like Da Mayor in DO THE RIGHT THING.
When he needs to catch up with Woody, Wesley drives his motorcycle into a crowded subway station and down an escalator, yelling “Out of the way!” Trigger warning for MAN OF STEEL dangerphobes. Of course there’s all kinds of subway train related mayhem – backing against the tunnel wall as it roars by their faces, riding the motorcycle down the tracks, hanging off the side, riding on top, crashing it through a barrier, jumping off it, jumping across the tracks in front of it, the Torch getting run over by it while on fire – but Wesley had to wait until he was half vampire to jump and grab onto one.
Wait a minute – subways in this, subways in BLADE, subways in the Bad video… Wesley’s career owes alot to subways.
I can’t say this is a great action movie, or a very good comedy. Maybe the only part that actually made me laugh is when they’re getting mugged by some hoods (including Lawrence Gilliard Jr. from The Walking Dead and possibly one other TV show, and Flex Alexander, who played Michael Jackson in the TV movie MAN IN THE MIRROR) and they get in such a big argument with each other that it scares them off. But the company of Woody and Wesley is enough to make it worthwhile. Jennifer Lopez is also a worthy partner and love interest even though it’s ridiculous how easy it is for a fellow officer to root for them to get away with their heist.
It should also be noted that it takes place between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. It’s not real heavy Christmas imagery or music, so it’s not weird that I’m watching it in August, but it’s there if you need another backup Christmas set action movie to watch after you’ve done the DIE HARDs and the Shane Blacks and everything.