In Jason B. Kohl’s indie crime drama “New Money,” the road to success is unpaved and ripe for a collision. Louisa Krause plays Debbie Tisdale, an addict from Michigan working multiple jobs in the hopes of returning to nursing school. Miserable, broke, bills well past due, Debbie is hobbling into her thirties on the brink of poverty. Her only source of human connection is her felon-on-the-run boyfriend, Steve (Brendan Sexton III). Motherless, Debbie has been estranged from her wealthy father for years, his only form of communication the occasional greeting card. Boyd Tisdale’s (Chelcie Ross) latest postal check-in conjures a childhood memory of lucrative certainty: the promise of fifty-thousand dollars to use at Debbie’s discretion once she turns thirty. Capitalizing on this agreement spurns a compelling kidnapping debacle that stumbles when taking a stab at the Coen Brothers’ signature small-town crime humor.
Krause inhabits Debbie with tragic desperation, going through all responsible avenues before improvising with cruel methodology. Confronting her father at his luxurious estate, Debbie can’t seem to separate him from his wife, Rose (a riveting Robin Weigart), who is almost thirty years Boyd’s junior. Rose’s love for Boyd is undeniable, but the lavish lifestyle he’s bestowed upon her elicits greater affection. However, this paradise of riches is fleeting; Boyd suffers from dementia, making his final wishes regarding his will of utmost importance. Both women are fighting for Boyd’s fortune before he passes.
With Rose’s prodding, Boyd retracts his earlier promise to Debbie, instead offering to pay for her residency at the most expensive treatment facility. While most functional adults would jump at the second chance Boyd is providing, Debbie becomes enraged and refuses anything less than a fat check.
The next phase involves an accidental parental abduction, unscheduled violence, botched planning, and two drug abusers steeped as deep in compulsion as they are in debt. The principal cast members deliver convincing, naturalistic performances as characters entangled on opposite yet equally miserable class tiers.
Kohl – who also wrote “New Money” – loses confidence in his material just as the tension goes into full swing. He elects to inject unnecessary screwball humor by way of two of the most incompetent private investigators in the history of cinema. Parts of Michigan might be well behind the times, but a Millennial P.I. intern conducting a criminal background check from obsolete desktop computers utilizing an even more antiquated search engine takes “backwards town” stereotyping to an extreme. The dopey faux detective partnership reaches peak idiocy during a final shootout so embarrassing in failure that audiences will unintentionally guffaw when they should be covering their mouths in shock.
When “New Money” works within its budgetary constraints, it shines a complex light on the lengths an addict will go without education, close family, and the financial means to improve their lives. In dire circumstances, moral compasses shatter long before the willpower to survive does. Krause is fantastic at imbuing Debbie with palpable internal motivation to uproot herself out of hardship. Unfortunately, the disease of addiction has more pressing concerns, as does Debbie’s insecure boyfriend. Steve lacks the cerebral or social skills to make an honest living, preferring to cling onto Debbie to validate his backwater existence. Reverse the clock, and maybe the pair would have amounted to more than just the pill-sniffing loafers they’ve become.
With a bleak ending that underscores the tragic inevitability of destitution left unaided, Kohl’s depressing thriller will find little fanfare. Those expecting a spiritual cousin of “Fargo” will wince in pain at the replicated comedic attempts. Tonally bizarre moments aside, “New Money” is interspersed with insightful social commentary on the widespread drug addiction plaguing working-class Middle America. Moreover, Debbie and Boyd’s family dysfunction therapeutically revisits the uncomfortable economic divide between prosperous parent and struggling adult. “New Money” has thematic potential worth investing in, but too often it yields to auteur idolatry at the expense of its provincial authenticity.
“New Money” is distributed by Gravitas Ventures and is currently available for purchase on Blu-Ray/DVD and multiple streaming platforms (YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon).