“Money Monster” plugs into real issues in the crumbling world of shaky financial markets, consumer trust and celebrity journalism and does so within the framework of a fast-paced, mainstream, highly commercial thriller.
It’s “Dog Day Afternoon” meets “Network” meets “Inside Man” meets “The King of Comedy” and that’s far too many “meets” to strike an original cord.
It moves swiftly, though, with its “ticking clock” and features stars such as George Clooney and Julia Roberts plus rising star Jack O’Connell (“Unbroken”) as a screwup who reacts to Wall Street fraud in a very personal way. So you can’t say it isn’t entertaining.
But afterwards, like a one night stand that might have been avoided with one less double bourbon, you question the momentary fun of every absurd situation, coincidence and implausibility that made it so entertaining.
Of all the films reacting to the Wall Street meltdown of very recent and distressing memory this may be the weakest.
Jodie Foster, who actually starred in “Inside Man,” is behind the cameras as director here. She does a formidable job of orchestrating all the chaos — indeed worldwide chaos — that ensues when a distraught working-class guy infiltrates and hijacks a live TV financial news program with a gun and bomb, takes the host hostage and demands answers for the irrational market plunge of a stock he sunk his entire net worth into.
I think most viewers can see where this is going from the get-go: the hostage crisis will reveal backstage secrets of the news media, of international financial dealmaking that crosses into criminality and of the troubled personal lives of all concerned.
But that’s, of course, the problem: you see where this is going. Right from the get-go.
Not that there aren’t laughs and thrills along the way. Clooney as the smug “Money Monster” host and stock picker, Lee Gates, puts on a vaudeville act of singing and dancing with silly props, sound effects and old movie clips as he relays Wall Street whoopee to the vast unwashed.
Julia Roberts plays Patty Finn, his longtime producer, who holds all the strings — only does she? It’s not clear who is Pygmalion and who is the carved ivory statue here or who, in contemporary terms, is really pulling the strings.
She is in the control booth, of course, calling the shots, her voice whispering in Lee’s ear piece, but he’s no dummy: it’s his show, not that he doesn’t treat it with a certain amount of disdain.
“We don’t do journalism,” Patty mutters in one telling aside early in the film. Well, the show is about to do so or die trying; it’s “Spotlight” with a gun to the head.
Literally. For one distraught investor, Kyle Budwell (O’Connell), invades a live broadcast of “Money Monster” — never mind that these kind of shows would undoubtedly be taped — to demand answers to the mysterious plummet of his $60,000 investment in one of Gates’ heavily hyped stock predictions.
The film tips its hand early with shots from locations around the world that make no sense until the final act and hints of a coverup by officials at the suspect firm whose CEO (Dominic West) is strangely out of touch in his private jet and whose communication officer (Caitriona Balfe) has discovered she is privy to less information than she thought.
It’s all a little too pat with (flawed) heroes and villain quickly labeled early on. One Asian sequence, looking like it’s out of an opium den fever dream, produces a tech guy who (red herring) looks like a latter day incarnation of Fu Manchu yet instead, in perfect English, explains why his trading algorithms could not possibly lose $800,000 in a single day’s trading.
That’s another thing. $800,000? That’s a blip on the screen in today’s financial markets. How could that send a stock into near bankruptcy and our forlorn hijacker into a suicide mission over his supposedly worthless stock?
Never mind. Just add another zero.
But the movie always seems to be a zero or so short of the mark. You understand what the point is but its trio of screenwriters, Jamie Linden and Alan DiFiore & Jim Kouf, never quite make the game plan work.
A guy slips into a closed Manhattan network set with the ease of someone walking into a baseball park at a spring training game. Shouldn’t his real target be the CEO? (Of course, in the end, it is.) How, logically, can this news show travel across Manhattan while gathering real journalistic information from hackers holed up in Iceland all in real time?
I could go on but you get the point: nothing here is the least bit plausible. The astute playing of actors and certainly Foster’s dextrous mix of scenes in and outside the studio keeps the juggling act going on to bravura lengths, however.
So “Money Monster” is fun and light entertainment that isn’t really serious after all about things many of us think of as being rather serious.
Opens: May 13, 2016 (Columbia Pictures)
Production companies: TriStar Pictures, Smokehouse, Allegiance Theater
Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriana Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito, Chris Bauer, Dennis Boutsikaris, Emily Meade, Condola Rashad, Aaron Yoo
Director: Jodie Foster
Screenwriters: Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf
Story by: Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf
Producers: Daniel Dubiecki, Lara Alameddine, George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Executive producers: Kerry Orent, Tim Crane, Regina Sculley, Ben Waisbren
Director of photography: Matthew Libatique
Production designer: Kevin Thompson
Music: Dominic Lewis
Costume designer: Susan Lyall
Editor: Matt Chesse
R rating, 98 minutes