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D: Lucky McKee / 85m

Cast: John Cusack, Ellar Coltrane, Willa Fitzgerald, Jacob Artist

A movie that should really have the tag line, “If you go down to the woods today…” Blood Money shows us that, if nothing else, three friends should never go camping together for the weekend, especially if the girl, Lynn (Fitzgerald), once had a relationship with one of the guys, Victor (Coltrane), and is now seeing the other guy, Jeff (Artist). With all that baggage hanging over them, what’s the likeliest thing that could happen (aside from their falling out, that is)? The answer – of course – is that they run into an embezzler on the run, Miller (Cusack), and the four bags he’s jumped out of a plane with but become separated from. The bags contain a cool eight million dollars, and Miller is determined to be reunited with them. But he hasn’t counted on Lynn’s equal determination to keep them for herself…

And that’s the movie in a nutshell. Embezzler jumps out of a plane with eight million dollars in cash stuffed into four bags, loses them to Lynn and Jeff (Victor correctly guesses it’s stolen money and he doesn’t want anything to do with it; hooray for someone behaving sensibly in one of these movies), and spends the remainder of the movie trying to get it all back from them. A simple plot, no frills, and potentially, a timely reminder that it’s often the simplest of plots that make for the best movies. Just not this time though. Instead, Blood Money insists on putting its characters through the mill in a succession of scenes that make you wonder if writers Jared Butler and Lars Norberg had worked out any of it in advance. The trio of unhappy campers bicker and argue while Miller wanders along the side of a river seemingly in no hurry to retrieve his ill-gotten gains and then skip the country (there’s an element of the D.B. Cooper story here but that has more drama to it than this does). At one point, Victor, having left his “friends”, comes upon Miller lying asleep on a makeshift table. It’s as potent a message as to the movie’s reliance on logic as you could ever need.

The movie does do something right, though, and while it may not pan out as effectively as hoped, it is a better idea than might be expected. The standard approach for this kind of wilderness thriller is to have the thief as the bad guy (he won’t let anything stand in his way, etc. etc.), and the lone female the eventual heroine who overcomes fear, panic, injury and several attempts on her life before eventually triumphing over the bad guy. Here, though, Butler and Norberg have chosen to make Lynn the bad guy, and Miller the character the viewer ends up rooting for. Once Lynn gets her hands on the money, it’s instant addiction time, and no one, not even Miller is going to stop her from keeping it. Again, it’s a great idea, and Fitzgerald has a field day with the role, but the drawback – yes, inevitably, there is one – is that over the course of the movie, Lynn’s determination becomes more than a little tedious, and by the time the script calls on her to explain herself, and she’s become a psycho with a mission, what she comes up with makes about as much sense as anything else in the movie (it’s something to do with becoming a woman, or something like that; in truth, it doesn’t really matter).

Against this the characters of Victor and Jeff have no chance but to sound and feel like also rans, with Victor bemoaning the way in which Lynn broke up with him, and Jeff forever feeling paranoid that Lynn will give Victor a second chance. And as Lynn is so awful to both of them, you can’t help but wonder why either one of them wants to be with her. But the dynamic feels forced anyway. With no credible reason for the trio to be together in the first place – where else but in the movies do these kinds of trips ever take place? – except to grab the loot when it shows up and set the thriller elements in motion, the script’s attempts at keeping us interested in which one out of Victor and Jeff, Lynn will end up with soon becomes irrelevant, and partly because it’s pretty obvious she doesn’t want either of them. So Blood Money becomes a chase movie, and in doing so, becomes even more generic.

At the helm of all this redactive nonsense, director Lucky McKee, who can normally be counted on to elevate the material he works with – check out May (2002) or The Woman (2011) if you need any persuading – approaches the material with no clear idea of how to make more of the script than is there, or to make the narrative more thrilling. This means the movie plods along lacking any appreciable energy, and Fitzgerald aside, wastes the talents of Cusack and Coltrane accordingly (Artist’s role as Jeff is so poorly written that the actor is undermined before he can even start). It’s a shame to see Cusack’s run of terrible movies continue, but here he’s in on the act, giving a less-than convincing turn as a thief with a conscience and an easy-going manner that changes whenever he has a weapon in his hand. Miller is a character you never get to know beyond the obvious, and when he tries explaining to Victor why he stole the money, the scene fades out before he can finish. If that’s an example of how well the character has been created then there’s little hope that any of it will ever matter.

In the end, and thankfully it’s a short enough experience that it rolls around quite acceptably, Blood Money has no clear agenda beyond its basic plot. There are no hidden subtexts, no attempts at allegory, and no sense that there was ever any intention to include them. But with that being the case, then the movie had every opportunity to up the ante on its simple narrative and make it all as tense and as thrilling as possible. That hasn’t happened though, and the movie is a plodding exercise in undercooked thrills, rampant narcissism (Lynn), and underwhelming relationship advice, and it all ends as precisely as you’d expect. So beware: if you go down to the woods today…

Rating: 4/10 – shoddy and inconsistent in its efforts to provide a convincing mise en scene, Blood Money is another forgettable outdoors thriller that seems to have been written on spec and directed accordingly; only worth watching if you want to see deconstructed gender politics given a light dusting of credibility, or the movie’s Georgia locations rendered beautifully by DoP Alex Vendler.