Where the Money Is

There is only one reason to see “Where the Money Is”: Paul Newman.

While many great actors become gross self-parodies as they age (Charlton Heston, Sean Connery), Newman has retained extraordinary dignity and charm. I’m no woman, but I’m guessing he still melts hearts when he flashes that smile and those baby-blue eyes, despite the fact that he’s nearly 120 years old.

In “Where the Money Is,” he plays a convicted bank robber named Henry Manning who fakes a stroke in order to get out of prison and into a nursing home. There, a rather sharp nurse named Carol (Linda Fiorentino) picks up on his ruse and convinces him to help her put the spark back in her marriage with the bland Wayne (Dermot Mulroney) by doing a heist with them.

It’s your standard “caper” film, but with two notable exceptions: It is not especially funny, nor is it particularly exciting. What few conflicts or potential problems there are either get dealt with quickly, or else just ignored (like the armored-car employees who escape, momentarily cause major panic, and are then completely forgotten).

As for the comedy, it’s there occasionally, lightly, but never in full force. The whole thing glides along very gently, as if trying not to wake the audience.

It’s not clear why Henry agrees to help Carol and Wayne with the heist. Is it because otherwise Carol will blab about him not really being a stroke victim? Is it because he wants the thrill of another caper himself? Either one is plausible, but neither one is defined.

And then there’s Wayne, who is reluctant to do it — and understandably so; I mean, how is THIS supposed to spice up their marriage? — then excited, then not quite so excited anymore. If his motivations were any murkier, they’d be non-existent.

Newman, though, plays his role with complete commitment and gusto, like the professional he is. It doesn’t matter to him that the plot and direction are weak, or that nothing ever really HAPPENS in this movie. He treats it like it’s the defining moment of his career — not in a self-delusional kind of way, but in a classy, give-it-your-all kind of way.

Perhaps the most telling thing about “Where the Money Is” is what my friend said as we left it: “Well, I don’t feel any different.”

Exactly. You don’t laugh a whole lot, you feel any special triumph for the characters, you were never on the edge of your seat.

You did, however, get to see one of the best actors of our generation devote his full energy even when the film he was in was a trifling, pointless waste. That alone is worth something, even if only as an object lesson.

C+ (; PG-13, mild profanity, some sexuality.)