The creators of Money Plane had one goal: to make a cool caper at 10,000 feet. “We wanted to figure out a way to combine heist and airplane but not a regular heist on an airplane,” producer Richard Switzer says, extremely soberly considering the contents of the sentence. “So we thought, ‘casino on an airplane.’”
Boom. Ready for takeoff. The microwave popcorn flick, which hit VOD on July 10, lives up to the promise of its high-concept premise. Adam Copeland, a.k.a. WWE’s Edge, stars as a thief whose team is dispatched to infiltrate and rob an ultra-exclusive flying casino to pay off a massive debt owed to a ruthless crime boss. Kelsey Grammer appears as said kingpin, a character best described as Sideshow Bob meets Scarface.
The film has a ridiculous plot, scenery-chewing supporting characters played by the likes of Thomas Jane, Denise Richards, and Al Sapienza, and a level of campiness fitting the subject matter. It is also—something very worth noting—helmed by Andrew Lawrence, the former child actor and youngest Lawrence brother (yes, those Lawrence brothers). Andrew’s two older siblings—Joey, most famous for saying “Whoa” on Blossom, and Matthew, who starred in Mrs. Doubtfire and Boy Meets World—helped him navigate the production. They also show up in it.
Guiding the 32-year-old Money Plane pilot was the even younger, 24-year-old Switzer. Since his teen years, Switzer has made a cottage industry out of producing cheap films, including the 2015 Lifetime movie A Fatal Obsession starring Eric Roberts and the 2018 direct-to-video thriller Black Water featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. When he was 18, he told Entertainment Tonight that he got his seed money from “a close family friend who’s big in investments.” Six years later, Switzer has 31 credits to his name.
Altogether, Money Plane could be this bleak summer’s low-budget version of another in-joke-laden, aircraft-set good bad movie: Snakes on a Plane. “It’s just short of Adam looking down the barrel of the camera and winking at the audience,” says first-time director Andrew Lawrence. “Which we actually shot at one point, but the powers that be made me tone it down a bit.”
Here’s how Lawrence and his team built a casino in the sky, and made one of the most delightfully ridiculous movies of the year.
Part 1: “What About an Airplane Casino Movie?”
Richard Switzer (producer): One day we were just talking about how we love Ocean’s 11. We love all those old heist movies. Those are our favorites. And we love airplane movies—Air Force One and Con Air. There’s just not a lot of airplane movies that come out.
Tyler W. Konney (producer): At the time we were also playing a lot of Casino War at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. No skill involved and terrible odds. That influenced our creative choices here.
Andrew Lawrence (director/Iggy): They love airplanes and casinos.
Switzer: We called Andy and that’s how it started.
Andrew Lawrence: I said, “What about an airplane casino movie?” And Richard said, “Sure. If you write it and it makes sense, we’ll fund it.” Tyler was like, “We can make that happen and get it out there.” And I was like, “It’s gonna be crazy and really self-aware.”
Joey Lawrence (The Concierge): Andy’s been making movies since he was about 4 years old. He would make a ton of home family movies. But they were movies. We filmed one movie at home for like six years, called Truth Can Kill.
Andrew Lawrence: I did it on those old pastel Macs on iMovie and I would crash my computers. Like, blow them up and melt them. They couldn’t really handle 85-minute features.
Matthew Lawrence (The Cowboy): Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is a culmination of 30 years.
Andrew Lawrence: Thirty years of cheesy action movies.
Joey Lawrence: I take partial responsibility. Matt will as well, because we infused a young Andrew with Marked for Death and Hard to Kill. From the late ’80s to the early ’90s, we forged our way into, well, Time Cop, Passenger 57, Murder at 1600, Rising Sun.
Interestingly, no one on the production team cites the 1995 Wesley Snipes–Woody Harrelson vehicle Money Train as an influence.
Konney: I don’t think I’ve seen Money Train.
Switzer: I also have not seen it.
Andrew Lawrence: When I was writing this role that Kelsey played, it’s like a Scarface wannabe. A version of this character of a crime boss. How cool would it be to have somebody with a great voice? An actor with some gravitas, just kind of iconic from films and TV. And I threw out Kelsey because of his voice. I love his voice.
Switzer: Who doesn’t love Kelsey Grammer? We went to him first and did not think that he would really do it.
Andrew Lawrence: I talked to him and gave him my pitch. And he was into it.
Kelsey Grammer (The Rumble): The film crossed my desk with an offer and it seemed like a fun, mustache-twirling kind of character that would not change my life, certainly, but put me in the sandbox with a new actor I like, Adam Copeland. That is usually one of the things I respond to in this job—new people. I also quite like Thomas Jane and it was nice to work with him again.
Switzer: I’m a massive, massive WWE fan, like since I was a kid. And Adam [Copeland] was a villain in the WWE but everybody loved him even though he was a villain. He was one of my favorites. I went to the Royal Rumble in 2008 at Madison Square Garden. And several other shows that he either main evented or was in some big way. I knew that he’d been retired for nine or 10 years from the WWE. I know that he’d done the shows The Haven and Vikings, and some movies for the WWE.
Adam Copeland (Jack Reese): When I found out that Kelsey Grammer was playing the villain, that was huge. Because my mom had actually passed away the year prior and her favorite actor, bar none, was Kelsey Grammer. The first show that I ever clearly remember watching with my mom is Cheers. And from there, it was Frasier. I literally feel like I grew up with the man. So I had just gotten cleared to wrestle again, out of nowhere, nine years after being forced to retire. And then this project falls in my lap and I just went, “OK. This is a no-brainer.” My mom’s pulling strings somewhere.
Andrew Lawrence: We were thinking, “Who’s a great anchor for Adam that’s in the same age but not too much older? But could be kind of a mentor for him.” I’ve always loved Thomas Jane.
Konney: Thomas Jane brings his own iconography into this because he was in The Punisher. We knew that Thomas carries with him subtle mannerisms and a certain quiet-tough-guy thing that works really well for that role. [Jane was unavailable for comment.]
Andrew Lawrence: And obviously, I really wanted my brothers to be in it. I was lucky enough that they were willing to be, because Joe kind of helped anchor us with this really creepy kind of concierge of the airplane. He’s our anchor through the whole story.
Matthew Lawrence: You had to recast Tom Arnold with me.
Andrew Lawrence: He was gonna help us out. But he couldn’t do it because he’s got kids. We didn’t have anybody for the role. There were some really crazy names to do it, [like] Tom Berenger. I was like, “You know what, it’s coming up and I need a hard yes. Matt, why don’t you play this character?” Because it’s so out there. Thank goodness he said yes.
Part 2: “Frasier Crane Is Now Scarface.”
The cast of Money Plane, including its handful of A-listers, embraced the shlock factor, adding their own personal flourishes to the movie. Its creators, who weren’t exactly blessed with the kind of resources afforded to, say, Michael Bay or James Cameron, got creative themselves, shooting on makeshift sets in multiple cities, maximizing the film’s budget. Speaking of the budget …
Konney: I can tell you it was less than $100 million.
Switzer: [Laughs.] I was gonna say less than 50.
Konney: We’re narrowing it down for you.
Switzer: We made a lot of movies in the past on shoestring budgets and have learned over the years how to stretch a dollar. We pulled all the favors that we had on this one and just figured out a way to get it done.
Andrew Lawrence: I gotta give credit to Richard Switzer for pulling off some of the impossible. He moved the production. It was a nightmare for me and a nightmare for him. He moved the production from Romania, to Toronto, to Baton Rouge. It was weeks before the thing was shooting. It was wild.
Switzer: Once we found this plane in Louisiana, we decided to go there. So we got to take this plane, completely refurbish it, and then build a casino on it.
Andrew Lawrence: Talk about building a plane during flight. We were literally building the plane set while we were shooting. It was insane.
Matthew Lawrence: It’s a Jaws equation, when you can’t show a shark because you don’t have a whole shark.
Andrew Lawrence: We picked corners of the set that were built, and shot in those corners. We had to do that all the time.
Copeland: It’s his directorial debut. You need somebody like that to steer the ship. Because that guy is so full of energy and so excited. And that trickles down.
Andrew Lawrence: We did some coverage with Adam and [Jane] was smoking his pipe. And I was like, “Just let him smoke his pipe, we can shoot this without him.” And he came on set and stopped us. It was the only time he was pissed. It was the only time he got angry. He was like, “What the hell are you doing? You’re rolling without me on set!” I was like, “Oh my God, Mr. Jane, we didn’t need you. We didn’t want to disturb you.” He was like, “No, I’m here to do a job.” And I was like, “This is awesome.”
Copeland: That was his addition—he wanted to smoke a pipe. So, pipe it is. It really just added that kind of camp element that I really enjoyed about it.
Andrew Lawrence: These guys actually like what they do and they’re not real jaded and they’re totally down to come and play ball and have some fun. [Jane] was so down to earth. We definitely had a confident production, but it was a smaller crew.
Matthew Lawrence: The first crew you blew up in a van. … [That’s a] MacGruber reference.
Andrew Lawrence: Matt was actually on the dolly for the first day of shooting because I needed help. And I don’t think Matt’s ever really pushed a dolly in his life. He’s usually in front of the camera, but it was awesome. You’re filming this great day on set and Kelsey’s killing it.
Matthew Lawrence: We were kind of on our tiptoes, like, “OK, what’s it gonna be like with Kelsey on set?” He has this whole reputation that precedes him, but then he gets on and he’s totally cool.
Grammer: I am always drawn to guys who are a bit over the top, so to speak. This was one of those characters, and I don’t mind the comparison to Sideshow Bob at all—arguably one of the greatest villains of all time, and always funny.
Andrew Lawrence: I loaded him up with some serious expository dialogue that was very unnecessary. And he delivered it and made it so good that we actually said, “We’ve gotta keep this.”
Copeland: It was a Sunday morning super early and next door was a guy mowing his lawn. Over the fence was a dog, and so we were just fighting all of these different elements. And bless his heart, Kelsey had some long soliloquies in there. So he’s trying to hammer through them before the dog barks and before the guy starts mowing again.
Andrew Lawrence: It was embarrassing. We got people running around ringing doorbells in Santa Monica trying to figure out whose dog this is. It would not stop barking. It was a joke. But he was cool enough that he didn’t let it ruin his day.
Switzer: My favorite part of shooting was actually—this is in the trailer—when Kelsey grabs his assault rifle and gets ready for the guys that are coming for him. We start rolling, he grabs the gun, and I remember just thinking, “Frasier Crane is now Scarface. I can’t believe that we did this.”
Part 3: “There Was Blood Everywhere.”
Kelsey Grammer is the biggest name in Money Plane. But the heart of the movie is Copeland, who was excited to play a role that for him was low key.
Copeland: I didn’t have an accent, and I didn’t have to lug around an ax or 50 pounds of leather. So this one was much easier.
Andrew Lawrence: We loaded him up with a ridiculous amount of dialogue. And he somehow made it his own and really delivered it.
Konney: Richard and I like to take quick coffee trips during the shooting day and try to bring people some coffee. We may have taken to calling Adam “Pumpkin Spice” during the production. Or Mr. Pumpkin Spice.
Switzer: I was gonna tell the Pumpkin Spice story. You took that from me.
Andrew Lawrence: Adam, man. Being a wrestler really kind of prepped him and primed him to just be a beast. Because this guy worked. We were working 16-hour days. He was doing all his own stunts.
Copeland: I always assume if I get a role there’s always going to be at least one fight scene. But I’m pleasantly surprised when there’s only one. Or if there’s none. It’s like, “OK, I got hired for multiple reasons. Not just my stunt and fighting ability.”
Andrew Lawrence: There’s this one cockpit fight—we filmed for eight hours. He did it all himself.
Konney: He went up against a stuntman who is really a pro.
Copeland: What was difficult about that is the guy I was fighting was 6-foot-6. And I’m 6-foot-4. And we’re in a cockpit trying to do this.
Konney: It’s a very small space in an airplane cockpit.
Andrew Lawrence: He put Adam right into the ringer. He killed it. I’d never seen anything like it.
Konney: It looked like they were really beating each other up. It sounded like it was a brawl happening in the cockpit.
Copeland: He got busted open in the very first take. There was blood everywhere. I threw a punch, he reacted, and all of the little knobs [in the cockpit] and everything just stuck in his head. That’s what happened. And so it became part of the fight scene, part of the comedy of it.
Andrew Lawrence: The stunt guy, he was fantastic. But at the end of those eight hours, he was like, wheeled out, dude. This guy, he was done. … We shot another six hours with Copeland.
Part IV: “Turn Off Your Brain for a Couple of Hours and Just Try and Have Fun.”
Now, only one question remains: Will Money Plane become a cult classic?
Copeland: The concept lends itself to it for sure. I think the fact that we added camp into it on purpose maybe also helps. I think you have some really recognizable names that people go, “Well, OK, I know Thomas Jane, and I know Denise Richards, and I know the Lawrence brothers, and I know Kelsey Grammer, and I’m not entirely sure: Is that guy a wrestler?” It’s a motley crew. But Mötley Crüe the band is really damn fun, so I’d like to think this movie is, too.
Andrew Lawrence: It’s my love letter to those crazy ’90s action films.
Switzer: Those are my favorite kinds of movies. My favorite time to watch a movie is at night, eating a slice of pizza. To be able to make one of those that I can truthfully look at and say, “If I didn’t make this, I’d be excited for it, and I’d love it, and I’d watch it.” That gets me very excited.
Konney: I have gotten the Snakes on a Plane comparison a lot. And I think if somebody had the time and inclination they could go through this and make just a cornucopia of GIFs.
Joey Lawrence: I think if Andy had his say, it would’ve been even more sort of inside-jokey, like Snakes on a Plane. That was definitely in his mind the whole time: “Wink wink, let’s take it seriously, but not take it too seriously.” I think in a director’s cut there would even be more of that.
Andrew Lawrence: That was always kind of the goal, just to kind of give people a little bit of a reprieve and have some fun. Now, specifically, I think it makes even more sense.
Copeland: It’s a throwback to those ’90s, late-’80s action movies where you just kind of turn off your brain for a couple of hours and just try and have fun. Especially in this climate. I mean, I’m looking for stuff like that constantly.
Andrew Lawrence: I do love sequels.
Matthew Lawrence: Or a prequel. On a boat. Call it Money Boat.
Joey Lawrence: Money Sub. Money Copter. They didn’t have the money for a full plane, so they just had to use a little helicopter.