Sometimes in the movies, less is more. It's a look Humphrey Bogart gives Ingrid Bergman when she walks into the bar in Casablanca; it's the pause that Denzel Washington makes before shaking Tom Hanks' hand in Philadelphia. We call that brilliant understatement.

Sometimes, however, less is just less. We call that Friends With Money.

Friends is a plot-less, theme-less and thoroughly joyless
movie that wastes the talents of an extraordinary cast of actors. The
movie stars Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener and
Jennifer Aniston. The only way this movie could have been a bigger
disaster was if one of the cast members had been seriously injured
during filming.

One of my most vivid memories of high school is of the time we
dissected a frog in biology class. If we had hooked up a heart monitor
to the frog, it would have generated a graph with more of an arc than
the plot line in "Friends. At least with the frog there was the occasional post-mortem spasm. The plot of Friends doesn't offer so much as a twitch.

Make no mistake, this is naturalistic filmmaking at its zenith.
Armed with deeply flawed characters (quirky is good, disturbed is
better) and a dismal outlook on life, writer/director Nicole Holofcener
acts as a voyeur and follows the characters for a brief period of their
lives. The result is an 88-minute reality show but without the
spontaneity and bug eating.

Hollywood marketing types will no doubt refer to this movie in media
print ads as a "stunning achievement." Technically, that's correct. Ms.
Holofcener has managed to pull off the doubly difficult task of
directing a film without a plot and penning a screenplay without a
theme. The movie seems to want to say that money doesn't buy happiness
but the characters that populate the film would clearly be miserable no
matter what went on in their lives.

Trying to extract a theme from this movie is like trying to
get a straight answer from a politician. In the final analysis, it
proves to be a waste of time and you suspect there's really no
principled view to back it up anyhow.

The real tragedy of the film is that there is plenty of raw
material with which to construct a good story. The characters, as
initially sketched out, are interesting. Any one of marital
relationships is rife enough with possibilities to be the subject of
its own movie. Add to that an incredibly strong cast and you
get....nothing. Conflicts don't progress or get resolved; characters
don't grow or transform; hopes for the story to progress are
consistently dashed. It's like going to the refrigerator at the end of
a long week and finding someone drank your last beer.

If there is any reason to see the film, it would be for the
transcendent acting. Jason Isaacs is so good as Catherine Keener's
verbally abusive husband that if you saw him in the lobby after the
show you'd probably take a swing at him. Frances McDormand is
powerfully convincing as a woman with anger issues teetering on the
brink of a breakdown. As usual, Jennifer Aniston plays Jennifer Aniston
better than anyone.

Friends With Money fails to deliver on any count
other than the acting, leaving audience members frustrated,
disappointed and ten dollars poorer before popcorn.

With Friends like this, who needs enemies?