Paul Newman turned seventy-five on January 26th, and the first glimpse of him as convicted bank robber Henry Manning is a shocker. Henry is a stroke victim, slumped in a wheelchair, and Newman plays him silent, stooped and stone-faced. Those famous blue eyes don’t betray a thought. Yikes — that’s Butch, Hud, Fast Eddie the Hustler and Cool Hand Luke up there, playing an old man being transferred from a prison to a nursing home. If you find that hard to believe, so does nurse Carol Ann McKay (Linda Fiorentino), an ex-prom queen stuck in a dull marriage to Wayne (Dermot Mulroney). Carol is sure this relic of an outlaw is having her on, and the law, too.
But try proving it. Carol gets an inkling when Wayne, who’s been working the night shift, shows up one morning in Henry’s room and grabs Carol for a quickie fuck. Afterward, Carol notices that Henry’s chair has somehow been arranged in front of a wall mirror that provides a full view of the hot action. Carol tries other tricks. She drops a tray in front of Henry, but he doesn’t even wince. Then she does a lap dance. You heard me. Carol turns on the radio, hikes up her skirt, crouches over Henry’s wheelchair and grinds her hips in his face in a manner that would bring a corpse to life. Hey, this is the same Linda Fiorentino who scorched the screen in The Last Seduction.
No reaction. Look, I’m not going to tell you how, why and when Henry drops his stroke act — there are few enough surprises in this heist flick — but Newman becomes Newman again in plenty of time to kick Where the Money Is into high gear. Director Marek Kanievska knows that Newman is his ace in the hole. Without Newman, Kanievska would be perpetrating a sting on audiences — since the script, in which Carol and Wayne enlist Henry’s aid in a heist of their own is familiar to the point of making eyes glaze over.
With Newman, the movie emerges as a lively character piece with flashes of humor and grace. Whether Henry is slow-dancing with Carol at a local bar or outsmarting crooks and cops at their own game, Newman steals the movie with the magic touch of a genuine star. So what if it’s only petty larceny. The glint in those blue eyes can put life in any party.