The film begins in medias res, with the suspects getting caught and being interrogated. Then it flashes back to three years earlier and the film continues forward from there, interspersed with occasional bits from the interrogation.
Three years before getting caught, Bridget Cardigan (Diane Keaton) lived a comfortable upper middle class life until her husband Don Cardigan (Ted Danson) was "downsized" from his position and sank into debt. The paycheck for Selina, the housecleaner, bounces again. Selina confronts Bridget and suggests she take a job as a janitor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
On her first day on the job, Bridget hatches a scheme to steal worn-out dollar bills slated for destruction. For her team she chooses Nina (Queen Latifah), who works the dollar bill shredder, and Jackie (Katie Holmes), who takes bill carts from the Secret Service room to the shredding room. It takes some work to persuade Nina to join, but Jackie joins them quickly.
The plan is that in the Secret Service room Bridget will switch a cart's official Master-brand lock with a near identical lock she purchased at Home Depot. Bridget will tell Jackie the cart number and give Nina the official lock. When Jackie gets the chosen cart, she dumps some bills from the cart into a trash can before taking the cart to Nina, who then uses Bridget's key to open it and restores the official lock, and then proceeds to shred the remaining bills. Meanwhile, Bridget, in the course of her janitorial duties, retrieves the dumped bills from the trash and splits them among Nina and Jackie in the women's restroom.
Their first robbery is a success though the take is not as big as they had hoped. However, they're emboldened to do it repeatedly. Once Don and Bridget pay off their debt, Don suggests they stop before they get caught. Bridget rejects this idea and persuades Nina and Jackie to keep going. They almost get caught but they end up cutting in Barry (Roger Cross), one of the security guards, who is attracted to Nina.
A Federal Bank Examiner shows up at a party at Bridget's house, and the next day Bridget sees him at work. The Examiner confronts Glover (Stephen Root), who is unwilling as a matter of professional pride to admit anyone has stolen a single bill out of his bank. Tipped off, that night Bridget and her accomplices begin trying to get rid of all the loot stashed in their houses, but the cops move in before all the evidence is destroyed. Bridget escapes but the others get caught.
Bridget hires a tax attorney to defend them. The lawyer gets Bridget and all her accomplices off the hook for their crimes, because neither the law enforcement, nor the examiner can prove that the large stash of cash in their homes came from the Federal Reserve Bank. Technically, it isn't illegal to have a couple of hundred thousand dollars in cash lying around inside a private residence. However, they spent a large sum of that stolen cash to buy expensive objects and improvements on their houses, and did not pay the taxes for them because they couldn't justify the income. The IRS demands they pay their taxes, which turn out to be equal in amount to the money that still remains.
Eight months later, Bridget reveals to Nina and Jackie that she had stashed away much of the stolen money in the basement of a friend's bar.Diane Keaton as Bridget Cardigan
Queen Latifah as Nina Brewster
Katie Holmes as Jackie Truman
Ted Danson as Don Cardigan
Roger Cross as Barry
Adam Rothenberg as Bob Truman
Stephen Root as Glover
J. C. MacKenzie as Mandelbrot
Christopher McDonald as Bryce Arbogast
Finesse Mitchell as Shaun
Bryan Massey as Detective Brinkley
The original U.K. version produced by Granada Television, Hot Money (2001), tells the story of three women, Bridget, Liz and Jackie, who embarked on a plan to steal thousands of pounds of banknotes that were due to be destroyed at the Bank of England's incinerating plant in Essex. It was a fictionalised account of the Loughton incinerator thefts.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 22% of 104 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 4.4. The site's consensus reads: "A laborious, unfunny and implausible heist film." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 41 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Roger Ebert gave the film a rating of one and a half stars, and wrote, "The bottom line is, some girls will like it, the men not so much." The film also received one and a half stars in a review in the Chicago Tribune, and Michael Phillips wrote that the film's cast was not to blame: "Do not blame the cast. The cast is game. The dreary visual scheme, however, combines unwell with the pokey, enervated rhythm of the heist scenes, and while I'm neither a medical doctor nor a script doctor, it seems this film could use a few uppers."
The film received three stars in Newsday, and Jan Stuart wrote "Mad Money is no Rififi, but Khouri and Gers invest it with an individuality and generosity of spirit that lift it into the realm of guiltless pleasure." Bill Wine of All Headline News gave the film two and a half stars, writing "Mad Money is a light and lively, likable low-tech lark. Don't expect big laughs, but you can at least bank on it to hold your interest." The Canadian Press gave the film one and a half stars, and criticized Katie Holmes's performance "While Keaton has long done zany and giddy well, and she and Latifah have an interesting contrast of personalities, Holmes' presence feels like an afterthought." The New York Post, The New York Times and Variety also criticized Katie Holmes's performance in the film, and The New York Times called Holmes "the movie's weakest link."
In an article in the Boston Herald titled "Don't waste your Mad Money on poor comedy", Stephen Schaefer gave the film a rating of "C", writing "Even with the legendary Diane Keaton center stage, Mad Money fails to hit the stratosphere of giddy, intoxicating comedy." The film received a critical review in from Claudia Puig in USA Today "This lifeless comedy and uninventive caper feels as if it were cobbled together at a studio's obligatory consciousness-raising diversity seminar."
The film scored a third place in the New York Post's Top 10 Worst Movies of 2008 overview.
The film debuted in fifth place at the box office on its opening day in the United States, with a return of US$2.3 million from 2,470 screens. Reuters referred to this return as a "modest" result for the film's opening day. By the end of its opening weekend, Mad Money had slipped to seventh place, with a weekend take of $7.7 million. Writing for Rotten Tomatoes, Gitesh Pandya noted that the opening weekend per theater revenue "averaged a not-so-impressive $3,126." amNewYork called the film's opening weekend return "a big flop at the box office," and the New Zealand Herald described it as "a box-office flop". Richard Johnson of the New York Post wrote that the movie "bombed, debuting at an abysmal seventh place on the box-office charts." The film's four-day take was a dismal $9.2 million. The film also did not fare well in its release in other countries, and Conor Bresnan of Box Office Mojo reported that "Mad Money bombed in its first two markets" overseas. With an estimated budget of $22 million, the film had broken even by the time it came off theaters.
Mad Money was released on DVD May 13, 2008.
In the DVD director's commentary, director Callie Khouri credits producer Jay Cohen as having brought her the British film he had obtained rights to be called Hot Money.
Hot Money is based on the true story of a group of women who worked at the Bank of England and, over an unknown period, removed an unknown amount of money that was supposed to be destroyed. No one except these women know the exact details of the theft. Callie Khouri and Jay Cohen worked 5 years to bring a deliberately Americanized version of Hot Money to the screen as Mad Money using various writers. Both Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah were attached early on to the project and writers began designing the characters specifically around the two actresses.