Jodie Foster's 'Money Monster' is more potboiler than polemic
George Clooney's Jim Cramer-type gets taken hostage by a righteously aggrieved nobody in a thriller that has personality and little else.
Director: Jodie Foster
Stars: George Clooney, Julia Roberts
3 (out of 5) Globes
Here’s something that makes no sense: A movie about corruption on Wall Street starring George Clooney turns out to be more pulpy than preachy, even goofy. Is that even legal? In “Money Monster,” lessons about unregulated brokers take up a modicum of real estate, but they get barely a pittance compared to bigger questions: Will the cops thwart a working class antihero (Jack O’Connell) who’s taken a Jim Cramer-style TV stocks guru (Clooney) hostage? Or are we supposed to root for him to survive? Will his potentially fatal antics expose the real baddie: a hedge fund greed freak (Dominic West)? Unlike most genre entries with a lefty bent, “Money Monster” actually seems like it forgot to place message over the thrills, to our benefit.
Of course, once this shock wears off, there’s not much left to “Money Monster,” which turns out to be a serviceable and preposterous thriller with logic holes so big they don’t even need to be pointed out — a dumb movie that probably doesn’t deserve its overqualified stars and name director. No less than Jodie Foster helms the tale of an Average Joe, O’Connell’s Kyle, who lost all his meager income on a bad stock tip offered by Clooney’s egotistical, leering television god. So one day he busts onto his show as it’s on the air, brandishing a gun and strapping Clooney’s Lee Gates into a vest fitted with bombs.
Kyle wants to go Howard Beale from “Network,” and he does. But once he’s shouted about corporate greed and the lack of governmental oversight and our collective failure to institute reforms after the 2008 economic apocalypse, he and the movie are done with soapboxing. It’s as though it got it out of the way so it could be a dumb nail-biter. At least it’s a dumb nail-biter with personality. There’s no part of Foster’s CV that betrays an affinity with thrillers, yet here she’s taken a page from one of her acting gigs. Like Spike Lee’s “Inside Man,” this is a thriller that runs on human foibles, a feeling for how today’s tech-driven world works and an actual sense of humor, even if it’s more about good vibes than good jokes.
Even at its sprightliest and most affable, “Money Monster” is rarely more than generically “watchable.” It might even lower our expectations, making us miss when susses out something more interesting out of its premise. If it’s shallow as a political film, it’s quietly sharp as a movie — not entirely unlike “Green Room” — about normal (which is to say non-heroic or muscular or particularly crafty) people in high-stakes situations. Clooney freaks out beautifully, always happy to make Lee look like a sad idiot, or at least a secret self-hater realizing, on the air, that he’s wasted his life. But even Kyle is someone you quickly realize is in over his head. O’Connell makes him more hothead than master schemer, entering the film all roided up before realizing, end of the day, he’s actually closer to an endearing screw-up.
All the while, there’s Julia Roberts’ Patty, the show’s reliable director. It’s her last day — that old chestnut — though she’s only heading to another job, away from the tiresome Lee. From her command in the control booth, she keeps them on the air while making sure things don’t head south. As the boys act like gesticulating men-children, unable to keep a lid on their manic emotions, she keeps her cool. Patty is basically Jodie Foster: someone able to take what could be a heinous situation — in this case an inane thriller with pretensions of grandeur — and make it charming and alive and sometimes even funny, if never quite approaching necessary.