Director Jodie Foster goes for a 1970s throwback vibe while approaching a modern financial subject in Money Monster, a valiant but messy effort starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.
Clooney plays Lee Gates, host of Money Monster, a sensationalistic financial program that features Gates dancing around the studio and making stock tips. Not all of Gates’ tips are winners—and he’s about to find out about the downside of bad advice.
Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) shows up on the set as a delivery boy—but he doesn’t have pizzas. Instead, he’s got an explosive vest for Gates to put on, and a gun that says, “Don’t turn off the cameras; we are going to be here for a while!” Producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) has to keep the show rolling as her host is being held hostage. Kyle lost a lot of dough on a Gates tip, and he’s here to tell us all how we are being suckered by “The Man.”
What unfolds is woefully predictable, with Clooney and Roberts laboring to make it all entertaining despite its flatness and many clichés. Obviously, the cold-hearted Gates will see not only the evil in companies he talks about on the air; he will also admit his own clumsiness. His heart will swell for his put-upon captor, and he will join him in solidarity against the evil corporate dictator Walt Camby (Dominic West), who stole Kyle’s money due to a “computer glitch.”
Foster is trying for a modern sort of Dog Day Afternoon, the Sidney Lumet classic featuring Al Pacino’s sympathetic bank robber who becomes a minor TV star as his self-created hostage crisis unfolds. Lumet happened to follow up that stunner with a little film called Network, another movie Money Monster pulls generously from on the media satire side.
Clooney gives it his all as Gates, but his character lacks a certain legitimacy, not to mention likability. The premise—his all-knowing TV host is oblivious to the true reasons for the financial collapse that caused his captivity—and his sympathies for his captor just don’t ring true.
There are many moments in the movie that defy reality. Gates and Kyle head out into the streets in a strange march toward Walt Camby’s headquarters, while New York City dwellers mock them in close proximity—even though Gates is wearing an explosive vest. It’s also strange that the lone cameraman in the studio has time to fire up a handheld and throw on a backward baseball cap in the few seconds it takes for Gates to leave the studio. I really hate stuff like that.
While O’Connell has delivered some knockout performances in the past (’71, Starred Up), he’s all wrong for this movie, utilizing an overcooked New York accent and constipated facial expressions throughout.
Roberts does relatively impressive work as the calm in the storm, although her role requires little more than saying stuff like, “Move that camera,” and “Lee, keep calm.” Roberts looks like she might have the chops to handle a low-key public-access show, so she has some options if the whole acting thing doesn’t work out.
In the end, it isn’t really clear what Foster is trying to say with this movie. Is she putting together an indictment of a society that relies too heavily on TV personalities and mobile devices? If so, big deal, because we’ve heard it all before, and that angle is no surprise. Is she going after big corporate, greedy billionaires who control too much of the country’s wealth? Again … tell us something we don’t already know.
Is she going after TV stars who look stupid dancing around in boxing gear? If so, she’s succeeded, because Clooney often looks like an idiot in this movie.
Money Monster is playing at theaters across the valley.