In ‘Blank Check’, A Series Of Easily Preventable Calamities Leads To A Baffling Moment Of Romance

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Most decisions made by the adult characters in 1994’s Blank Check are illogical at best and often utterly incomprehensible. Which is fine! “Preteen boy lives out wildest fantasy while suffering almost no consequences for his actions” was practically an entire movie genre in the 90’s. We can’t have mature adults smothering all the fun with their coherence and rational thinking.

But of all the preposterous, enabling events caused by adults, there is one we simply can’t look past: an on-the-lips kiss between an 11-year-old in a white three-piece suit and an eligible FBI agent twenty years his senior.

It all could have been avoided, of course. The movie begins when a real nasty man — who has just escaped prison — retrieves a briefcase filled with a million dollars from an abandoned warehouse. Criminal Quigley knows the stolen bills are marked, so he demands a bumbling bank manager acquaintance launder his million in 24 hours (an impossible task). The most crucial moment of the film occurs in the bank parking lot, when the bad man needlessly speeds out of his parking spot and nearly cripples 11-year-old Preston Waters with his flashy Jaguar. (It bears repeating that this man is an escaped convict.) With Preston’s bike in pieces and a police car approaching the scene, Quigley quickly shoves a check in the kid’s hand and instructs him to have his father fill it out with an appropriate amount for the bike damage. The fugitive bank robber gave a child a blank check.

 Mr. Quigley could have saved himself a major headache if he just took an extra second with Preston.

Mr. Quigley could have saved himself a major headache if he just took an extra second with Preston.

Ignore for a moment the fact that it takes less time to write “$100” or even $1,000” in the box on a check than it takes to read this sentence. Why is the bank robber, who should still be in prison, signing checks with his real name in the first place? Also maybe don’t drive an attention-grabbing vehicle if you’re on the run from John Law? Basic stuff, really.

Young Preston, a budding scoundrel in his own right, wastes no time diving headfirst into the seedy world of bank fraud and identity theft. He prints “$1,000,000” (one million dollars U.S.) on his blank check and heads to the bank the next day to cash the exact amount the manager is expecting to deliver to Quigley’s associate. The bank manager is bumbling, remember, and without much pause he flings open a safe filled with cash. A competent adult might have been more hesitant to happily fill a child’s backpack with a million dollars.

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Minutes later, Preston is engaged in intense negotiations for the purchase of the mansion for sale near his family home. With puberty not yet on the horizon, the young computer whiz uses voice software on his Macintosh to make his offer over the phone. (Surely the real estate agent would balk at a child’s voice on the other end of the line. Robot voice though? Make an offer!) Preston happens to be bidding against Criminal Quigley himself who, it should be noted, escaped prison two days ago. If nothing else, this man has gall.

Preston is just about to have his $200,000 offer accepted when his mother, calling from the stairs, says she’ll be home later than expected: “Make it three!” she yells. Less than an hour after cashing a million-dollar check, Preston has spent almost a third of his net worth on a house, $100,000 of which was essentially wasted because his mom changed her mind about some errands. This healthy sum would have come in handy later on.

Posing as an employee of the nonexistent millionaire “Mr. Macintosh”, Preston takes possession of the house immediately, which is a fast (impossible) closing, even for a cash transaction. It’s unclear who signed the deed.

 When the computer graphs say the money's goin' up.

When the computer graphs say the money's goin' up.

Preston is now a redheaded T.I., the rubber band man of this small town in Indiana, peeling off hundos whenever he needs new designer shades or some oversized carnival sumo wrestling suits. What he doesn’t know is that these bills are marked by the FBI, and the feds are hot on Mr. Macintosh’s tail for money laundering. You had one job, bank manager!

Another group after Preston’s scalp is the hapless trio of Criminal Quigley, his right-hand man, and the bumbling bank manager who gave a child a million dollars in cash. (In the real world the bank manager would have been murdered by now.) Their headhunting strategy seems to be, “go where kids congregate and hope to recognize the culprit.” This actually works, and when the bad guys happen upon a lonely Preston in a local park, they proceed to plow the Jaguar through the public space, damaging bushes, utilities, and what appears to be some sort of concert stage. Dozens of witnesses watch in horror as the three men attempt to run over a child on a bicycle with their luxury sedan. As a reminder, the driver of this vehicle broke out of jail two days ago. Preston escapes unharmed.

Before we dig into Preston’s burgeoning love life, let’s revisit the bank manager’s most boneheaded decision to date. Handing a child $1,000,000 in sequential bills was certainly ill-advised, but under those circumstances it’s borderline understandable. Indeed, the dumbest move by the bank manager was choosing to team up with the convict he wronged and pursue Preston throughout the city. Why not just, like, give the guy another milly? You run a bank and are clearly okay with engaging in illegal activities. Just reach deeper into the safe and hand over a different set of cash — figure out the kid thing later. And while we’re here, Mr. Quigley should have demanded a different million on the spot and threatened this idiot with death by safe door if he declined. None of the criminals involved should be without large sums of money at any point in this story. It’s embarrassing.

Anyway, Preston has a crush on Shay, the bank teller three times his age. She’s an undercover FBI agent looking to get to the bottom of this Mr. Macintosh mystery, but hey she also likes to have fun okay? There’s really no other way to explain why a government special agent would agree to a “business meeting” at a fancy restaurant with an 11-year-old. Red flags aren’t raised when Preston can’t explain how Macintosh acquired his wealth (the main piece of information Shay wants), nor when he presents her with a heart necklace, a “business gift” from Mr. Macintosh, whom she has never met. Shay’s FBI training failed her miserably in this moment.

But there’s an undeniable connection between the two, and Preston cleverly works out a way to get more face time with his crush. A birthday party, he says, for Mr. Macintosh of course. He’ll be there, and you two can talk business. (He won’t be there, and they won’t talk business.) Get me a party planner.

To call this unnecessary bash a catastrophe for Preston would be an understatement. It’s small-town Indiana’s version of a Royal Wedding reception, and the event coordinator wishes to be fairly compensated. Unfortunately Preston spent all but $300 of his initial one million dollars and can’t pay the bill. I’m no businessman, but if the party planner had to do it over again, my guess is she’d require a greater portion of the $100,000 cost up-front. Maybe verify the client is indeed a high-net worth individual and don’t just take a kid’s word for it?

Shay is there at least, but by the time she runs into Preston he’s slumped behind his desk, tears in his eyes. The party’s over.

An irate planner sends everyone home, revealing Mr. Macintosh (Preston) to be a deadbeat fraud. Right on time, the bad guys show up, demanding the million bucks Preston walked out of the bank with. While standing in a mansion filled with expensive toys and occupied only by an 11-year-old it does not dawn on these numbskull crooks that maybe the kid spent the money already and Mr. Macintosh doesn’t exist (a certain member of the trio probably should have picked up on that when he lost a bidding war to a computer voice). In his infinite wisdom, the bank manager suggests Criminal Quigley usurp Mr. Macintosh’s empire, get a fresh start, a new identity, and perhaps capitalize on Mr. Macintosh’s (evaporating) popularity by running for mayor. Again, Quigley fled prison less than a week ago.

While the fugitive contemplates running for mayor, Preston slips out of the room and proceeds to confuse and embarrass the criminals using the silly toys he purchased with the money he stole. The feds, led by Shay, arrive on the scene and demand to know the whereabouts of the money-laundering Mr. Macintosh. Quigley — an escaped convict who should be at the top of every state and local police force’s most wanted list — decides, in the face of all logic, to claim to be Mr. Macintosh. His thought process is truly unexplainable: FBI agents flash their badges angrily ask for someone, and you think pretending to be that person will have positive consequences? A blunder for the ages.

This series of events, entirely preventable if just one of the adults involved had a shred of common sense at any point along the way, lead us to an interaction unlike any other in the history of American cinema:  a consensual, romantic kiss between a 31-year-old woman and an 11-year-old boy.

  Blank Check  (R - 1994)

Blank Check (R - 1994)

Shay's interest in Preston, initially rooted in her desire to learn more about the alleged criminality of Mr. Macintosh, has morphed into something more. She has a soft spot for the kid — he showed her how to be spontaneous, how to laugh at yourself, how to have fun again. Or something. In any event, she knows Preston has a scalding hot crush on her. The least she could do is give him a quick peck...

...on the forehead! Locking lips with a minor isn't advisable for anyone, let alone a special agent in the FBI. There's laws against this kind of stuff!

Shay has nothing to gain from this show of affection. At best, her reputation in the department is shattered; at worst, she's cultivated her own stalker for at least a decade. Had Preston's dad walked in the room a split-second earlier, she could have been perp-walked into the station along the the three stooges. In a movie filled with mind-numbing decisions made by adults, Shay kissing Preston is easily the most baffling.

In the end, there are a few lessons to be learned. Money can't buy happiness (though one presumes diligent wealth management might do the trick), and also family first. But mainly, snake it 'til you make it: In just six days, 11-year-old Preston Waters acquired a million dollars through gross deception, concocted a fake identity, purchased a mansion, consistently eluded bounty hunters, spent the rest of his money on depreciating material assets, successfully wooed a grown adult woman, defrauded a respected event planner, presumably avoided any tax snags, got off scot-free and was actually rewarded with a smooch from an all-world babe. The '90s kid American dream. |ES|