Baby Money proves that having kids changes people in all sorts of ways. Once Minny (Danay Garcia) sees her little girl on the ultrasound screen, she’s fiercely determined to give her child the best possible life. Unable to work as a dancer due to her pregnancy, she’s very short on cash, and facing eviction from her apartment.
Running out of options, her boyfriend/baby daddy Gil (Michael Drayer) convinces her to join him in a robbery scheme. Gil, Tony (Travis Hamner), and Dom (Joey Kern) grab a mysterious purple box out of an unassuming suburban home. Minny is the wheels for the getaway, and the young couple gets their cash for a fresh start. They don’t know what’s in the box, or much about their co conspirators, but they also aren’t being paid to ask questions.
Of course, this seemingly simple plan goes to hell in a handbasket, as dictated by standard thriller tropes. The homeowners are killed in the attempt, one of the theives is injured, and Minny is forced to ride off without the rest of the crew when questioned by a suspicious neighbor. In the equally mandated by bylaw improbable coincidence, the house the robbers choose to hide in belongs to a familiar face. Heidi (Taja V. Simpson) shares her suburban home with her disabled son, Chris (Vernon Taylor III). She also happens to be the ultrasound tech Minny saw that morning.
After the botched home invasion, Baby Money doesn’t really attempt to raise the stakes or the tension. Minny, despite being the face on the poster and the onus for the title, is relegated to a secondary plot point as she has to search for another car in which to rescue the men. Heidi is basically to tending to her son when the shock and strain of the home invasion triggers his seizures. His cerebral palsy isn’t treated as much more than a plot device, the character of Chris not really sketched in in any other respect than his illness.
What we’re left with is an attempt at character drama , as out of his depth Gil and loose cannon Dom are left to bicker over how to handle their ever worsening situation (and their de facto hostages). Neither performance is terrible, but as both men are written as stock types it isn’t particularly arresting on its own. We don’t know much about either man, and none of the infighting informs the audience of anything new.
Danay Garcia as Minny has an appealing screen presence, and she does a solid job telegraphing her character’s conflicted emotions in her gestures and facial expressions. The script provides her very little to do with that anger or uncertainty. Minny spends most of her screen time driving pensively. By the time Robert Mammana makes a brief turn as a smarmy former strip club patron, it’s a boon. He’s got a distinct (if annoying) personality, and robbing him of his car gives Minny something interesting and necessary to do.
Similarly, Taja V. Simpson’s Heidi offers some solid emotional moments, as well as a chance at some much needed tension and conflict (the need to get her son medical care versus the danger of attempting to escape the strangers in her home). However, she also loses her valiant struggle against the script, her character sidelined by caretaking for far too much of the film.
No one single element is the smoking gun for why Baby Money doesn’t really have much of an impact. The early scenes of the script were an effective set up for a thriller. The performances are mostly game, though the film does itself a disservice by sidelining both of its female protagonists (aside from a tossed off female empowerment coda at the end of the film) for their less interesting male counterparts.
Mikhael Bassilli and Luc Walpoth do a competent directorial job of making a shadowy suburban home look like something less familiar, and give some neon noirish visual vibes to the street scenes. While certainly a lower budgeted film, its minimal locations keep it from showing its price tag. The film moves along at a steady clip, and doesn’t wear out the welcome of its 90-ish minute runtime.
Baby Money‘s problem is that it lacks the ambition to be be either notably good or noticeably bad. Instead, the movie commits to safest, most formulaic thing possible at nearly every opportunity. Other than some punky energy in the animated opening credits, and one swiped from exploitation films plot solution in the third act, there is nothing to distinguish Baby Money in a crowded field of crime thrillers.
Co director Mikhael Bassilli has also worked on media content algorithms that analyze story data into easily quantified metrics, and it shows. Baby Money isn’t so much a movie as it is an amalgamation of well trodden set pieces perfect for streaming service autoplay and IMDB plot summary hashtags. It’s filmmaking by a mass committee of machine learning, offering a pre checked list of the familiar so as not to scare audiences away with anything memorable.
Wicked Rating: 4/10
Directors: Mikhael Bassilli, Luc Walpoth
Writers: Mikhael Bassilli, MJ Palo
Starring: Danay Garcia, Michael Drayer, Joey Kern
Release: August 10, 2021 (Fantasia Film Festival)
Runtime: 93 minutes