Mark Reviews Movies

Money Monster


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jodie Foster

Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Dominic West, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito, Chris Bauer, Dennis Boutsikaris, Emily Meade, Condola Rashad

MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 5/13/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 12, 2016

This material potentially could have worked as a dark satire about how a news personality will only do actual journalism when there literally is a gun pointed at his head. It might have worked as a real-time, race-against-the-clock thriller in which the harried and ragtag crew of a TV show must put the pieces of a mystery together before they're killed on live television. It could have used this scenario to delve into the incestuous relationship between corporate media and the business world at large, in which business "news" shows really just seem to be serving as mouthpieces for whatever companies promise exclusive access and easy-to-sell stock options. Instead, Money Monster repeatedly changes its mode and tone without much reason or rhyme.

The movie's comic elements are, perhaps, its most promising, although that's mostly because the situation here is so inherently absurd. Perhaps the funniest part is the "all persons fictitious" disclaimer at the end of the closing credits. The movie gives us Lee Gates (George Clooney), a business reporter for a major cable news network who encourages his viewers to participate in the stock market with "triple buys," pounds a button on his desk to cue up sound effects and video clips, and struts around the studio with a load of braggadocio.

If you don't know the real-life personality whom the character is representing within a minute of watching the fictional show, that's probably for the best. Everyone else might spend that first minute wondering if we're going to be reading about a lawsuit against the people behind the movie any time soon. That development would definitely end up being the funniest thing related to the movie. 

The plot involves Lee coming face to face with someone who took his questionable advice. The man is Kyle (Jack O'Connell), who spent his mother's $60,000 inheritance on stock in a company that Lee promoted as being "safer than a savings account" and his "buy of the millennium."

The company, which uses an advanced algorithm to invest in and profit from the market (There are a lot of "Explain it to me in English" moments involving this MacGuffin), lost $800 million. Kyle sneaks into the studio with a handgun and two boxes containing vests rigged with explosives—one for Lee and one for the company's CEO (Dominic West), who was supposed to appear on the show but bailed at the last minute. Holding a dead man's switch for the vest, Kyle wants an explanation for what happened, and if he doesn't get it, he threatens to kill Lee.

The threat gets Lee and the show's director Patty (Julia Roberts) to finally do some investigative work, and they get help from the company's chief communications officer (Caitriona Balfe), who quickly grows a conscience after spouting the company's talking points to Kyle doesn't work. The answer to the mystery of the disappearing money is as obvious as it seems, although that doesn't prevent the screenplay (by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf) from dragging out the solution in the movie's final act by way of withholding key information until the climax.

Until then, the movie treats its conflict with severe shifts in tone. Part of that comes from the movie's conviction that the entire scenario rests in some kind of moral gray zone. It's not as murky as the movie believes it to be, and where that ambiguity is present, it feels forced. Kyle is not the anti-hero that the screenplay makes him out to be. Lee is a jerk and a man whose desire to be a showman outweighs any ethical duties he might have, yes, but his "punishment" here also outweighs his transgressions (The punch line to a scene in which he essentially asks his audience to put a price on his life is pretty amusing). Even Patty, who is the character who comes closest to serving as a conscience, comes across as more concerned with turning the hostage situation into good television than with attempting to resolve the crisis.

The setup of these characters works for comedic purposes, but the movie's intentions aren't purely satirical. It also wants to work as a thriller, which plays out in close approximation to real time. In that regard, director Jodie Foster plays it straight, and the balance between the two approaches is shaky at best. It doesn't help that none of these characters elicits—or, apparently, is even meant to conjure up—sympathy. The police side of the standoff is never convincing (Their plan to shoot the hostage is intentionally laughable, which, again, undermines whatever tension could be present), and the entire thing becomes more ridiculous before all is said and done, as the standoff moves out of the claustrophobic set and on to the streets.

There is, of course, a message intertwined here, and it would feel simplistic even in a time before our most recent economic crisis. It basically amounts to repeating the observation that the stock market is rigged over and over again (even though the solution to the mystery has little to nothing to do with that system). In fact, forget the 2008 financial crisis. The message of Money Monster would probably feel quaint at any point after the market crash of 1929.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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