Melissa Moseley, M Money, Llc.
Director Callie Khouri sets up a scene with Queen Latifah in the independently funded "Mad Money."

One man's trash may be another's treasure, but when the "man" is the federal government, trash is supposed to stay trash.

In the comedy "Mad Money," Diane Keaton plays a pearls-wearing Kansas City socialite who works as a janitor at the local Federal Reserve Bank after her husband (Ted Danson) loses his job.

The Fed shreds $1 million in worn-out currency every day, and Keaton's Bridget Cardigan concocts a crazy plan to steal some "trash" before it's chopped up.

"Honey, I hate cleaning toilets, but the money is so good," she later tells a co-conspirator.

Her partners in crime are a single mom with a heart of gold, played by Queen Latifah, and a ditzy rocker babe (Katie Holmes) with a dimwit husband (Adam Rothenberg).

"Diane brought that zany sense of fun and comedy we were hoping for," says director Callie Khouri on the phone from Los Angeles, "and Queen is one of the most solid actresses. I don't know if there's anything she can't do. She's just so good.

"As for Katie, we needed somebody who was brave, and she obviously is that. She's not afraid to take on big projects, like being married to Tom Cruise, and she was so right for (the role)."

Khouri, 50, won an Oscar in 1992 for her "Thelma and Louise" screenplay and wrote the Julia Roberts-Dennis Quaid romance "Something To Talk About" (1995). She also adapted Rebecca Wells' novel "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" for the screen and directed the film, which stars Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn and Maggie Smith.

It took Khouri more than six years to get "Mad Money" to the big screen. She planned to start on it after "Divine Secrets" wrapped and had commitments from Keaton and Latifah.

"MGM got bought by Sony, and we went into that vortex of being a project from one studio that was switched to another. 'Mad Money' sat on a shelf for a number of years, and (producer) Jay Cohen got the project back when the time was up and (Sony) wasn't going to make it."

"Mad Money" was funded by independent financing, not big-studio money, something that still exasperates Khouri.

"It doesn't make any sense to me. It's jaw-dropping to have this cast and not have a major studio want to make it. It speaks to the sad state of our business. I don't know if it's been in worse shape than it is now."

Khouri is speaking just before Sunday's Golden Globes dinner was turned into a press conference. The Feb. 24 Academy Awards ceremony could be in jeopardy because of the ongoing Writers Guild strike. In addition, moviegoing seems to have stalled, with audiences buying about the same number of tickets last year as in 2006.

"We wanted 'Mad Money' to be pure fun," Khouri says. "That was our goal from the beginning, and we stuck to it. We obviously had to be patient to get it made, and everybody hung in there with us.

"When you think about a movie that long, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the parts. You get married to a certain idea. I could hear Diane and Queen's lines in my head, spoken by them. We, of course, had to wrap our minds around the idea that we might not have them."

She isn't sure why Keaton and Latifah remained with the project, but she's grateful. And once the film had financing, Khouri set out to find an actress to play Jackie Truman, the youngest of the three bank robbers.

"We wanted somebody Katie's age, and it was kind of a love thing from the beginning, as soon as I started talking to her," says Khouri. "I think she's going to surprise people. There's a side to her they don't know. They think of her being a little quieter, more self-contained.

"She's such an elegant girl, and when you meet her in person, she seems to be about 9 feet tall, she's model-beautiful, she's got perfect skin and when she smiles her eyes look like light is coming from inside. She's the least pretentious person, and she's so fun."

"Mad Money" was filmed entirely in Shreveport, La., partly because of generous tax incentives offered to movie companies.

She shot "Divine Secrets" in North Carolina and the 2006 TV drama "Hollis and Rae," which she wrote and directed, in Savannah, Ga.