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'Mad' is on the money

'A Woman's Work is With a Gun."

Or so the episode was called when a story similar to "Mad Money" was done on "Hawaii Five-0." Then, in "How to Beat the High Cost of Living," three desperate housewives stole cash from the local shopping mall.

Here, the caper has been updated somewhat: Instead of bored women robbing stores or tour buses in broad daylight, we get three very different yet delightful slices of domestic life -- all connected by a common need: cash.

There's Bridget, an upscale lady of leisure, played hilariously by Diane Keaton; Nina, a downtrodden single mom (a steely and convincing Queen Latifah), and Jackie, a naively cheerful, engaged 20-something played with a loopy buoyancy by Katie Holmes, who dances on the job and appears just happy to be working.

After Bridget's henpecked husband Don (Ted Danson) is "downsized," the couple discover themselves "$386,000 in debt." Bridget dives into the classified ads, only to realize she's unskilled and laughably unqualified for today's high-tech workplace. When asked "Don't you know how to do -- any -- thing?" she half-heartedly assures one employer, "I can Google."

Defeated, she accepts a janitorial job at the Federal Reserve Bank, which is initially described to her as resembling a prison or "a Vegas casino: a big room, no windows and no fun."

Watching the currency get destroyed, Bridget starts to think, to fantasize and, ultimately, to devise a clever plan to enlist her equally needy co-workers to help rob the place. Because, as Jackie's sensible and compassionate fiance (a sweetly spaced-out Adam Rothenberg) observes: "Money can't buy happiness, but it sure as hell buys everything else!"

After a simple lock switch, the trio regularly help themselves to piles of bills destined for the shredder or, as Bridget astutely calls it, "recycling." And just to make sure her husband is on board, Bridget smiles and warns, "Lighten up, or I'm gonna have to have you whacked."

Yes, the overtones from classic TV are rampant. While Bridget is positive of her foolproof scheme, the at-times stereotyped Nina has her doubts, but not for long. With attitude to spare, she lives in the projects, barely gets by and wants nothing more than to get her honor-roll son out of his dead-end school and into a posh private academy where they're no longer accepting "scholarship applicants."

Don, meanwhile, is eminently sensible, warning: "Don't get too greedy; that's how people get caught." Bridget pleads with him that she's merely trying to assure their "long-term financial security --"

"Versus maximum security?" he shoots back.

Told she must flirt with a guard to instill his help getting access to the cash carts, Nina asks the gang, "Do you know what it means when people trade sex for money?" Bridget does: "Advertising."

So, dressed to the nines and enlisting every ounce of her well-displayed curves, Nina corners him and shamelessly goes for the jugular, cooing "What if you could have what you wanted?"

When told it's time to quit while they're ahead, Bridget -- in perfect deadpan -- laments, "I hate cleaning toilets, but the money is sooo good."

Sure, "crime is contagious." And the entire movie's joie de vivre air of suspense is, too. But we are also reminded that everyone needs "mad money" -- or, as Jackie asks, "Is that money for when you get mad or go mad?"

For these bewitching burglars, it's both.

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