Twenty Bucks (1993) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Baritone: "A story 58 years in the making ... "

Endre Bohem was a Hungarian immigrant who became a screenwriter back in the 1930s and eventually migrated into television, where he wrote for The Cisco Kid, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, and other classics of early TV. He lived long enough to see his son Leslie become a successful screenwriter in his own right, and it came to pass that one day the father showed the son a movie script he was proud of, one written in 1938 but never produced. The son was impressed by the script, and eventually shepherded it into this very film, after more than a dozen re-writes and years of plugging away. The father lived 90 years, but that was not long enough to see the realization of a screenplay he wrote when he was in his thirties. He died in 1990. The film was finally made in 1993.

A lot of other people must have been impressed with the script as well, because the final product features a massive ensemble cast including many once and future stars who must have agreed to work for peanuts in order to bring this film in for six million dollars. The cast includes William H. Macy, David Schwimmer, Melora Walters, Elisabeth Shue, Spalding Grey, Brendan Fraser, Christopher Lloyd, Steve Buscemi, Linda Hunt, Jeremy Piven, and Gladys Knight sans Pips. Oh, yeah, and about a zillion more people.

The reason for the monstrous cast is the gimmicky nature of the film's premise. It follows a twenty dollar bill from the time it is minted to the time it is burned and destroyed, and thus the story constantly moves from one episode to the next, forming into a series of vaguely interconnected short stories, each with a separate cast.  Sometimes the script drops characters altogether when they lose possession of the twenty, but at other times, it brings people back for cameos in one or more of the other stories. In at least one case, a character appears in several of the stories - a homeless woman (Linda Hunt) who appears many times and actually possesses the bill twice. Especially memorable is the story which features Christopher Lloyd as a refined, straight-laced professional with none of his usual eccentric mannerisms, but with a rather unusual career - he's a liquor store robber ... but always the perfect well-mannered gentleman.

The gimmicky basic concept had the potential to be a recipe for a shallow and/or pretentious disaster, yet another one of those "high concept" Hollywood contrivances. I would suppose that many of you, having read the general description, have already decided that the film probably sucks. I was in the same boat. I got out of that boat because this is a case where the author's skill allows the charm of the characterization to rise above the schlocky nature of the premise. Leslie Bohen was right about his father's script. It has a lot of heart and a lot of wit, and was worth the effort he expended to re-write and produce it. It is fundamentally a light drama which provides some good moments and actually manages to develop some audience identification with a few of the characters, despite spending so little time with each of them. Best of all, it really lightens the load by serving the most poignant parts of the drama with a very large helping of comedy. The screenwriter knew exactly which moments to focus on, and managed to weave the humor seamlessly into economical, self-contained stories. I can see why so many stars were impressed with the script.

The film works just fine, and is well worth a watch. It is also an amazingly full-featured DVD, given the obscurity of the film.



  • Excellent  transfer, anamorphically enhanced widescreen(16x9)
  • Two commentary tracks
  • Two featurettes.


Playing a funeral director who moonlights as a stripper, Melora Walters wears nothing but a thong for several minutes, There is also a brief look at her bum without the thong.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: three stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3/4.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. Although it was an entertaining movie with good reviews, Twenty Bucks was virtually unreleased. It grossed $89,00 in eight theaters.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C+, an entertaining, picaresque series of short stories loosely connected by a twenty dollar bill possessed by one character in each episode.

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