Money Monster review: a mess, but the kind that doesn't get boring
Money Monster is a movie that should have been made a few years ago in order to cash in on the stock market crash or the Occupy Wall Street protests.
But truthfully, the movie's hunt for a scapegoat is more a wish-fulfilment fantasy than any actual social commentary.
But it does get one thing bang on - the desire for the masses to see somebody, preferably a wealthy and arrogant somebody, to pay for the misery brought to millions who invested in cowboy capitalists who make faulty bets.
Taming the monster
Playing the anti-hero, the movie gives us George Clooney as the slick talk show host Lee Gates who projects himself as your buddy that knows everything about what makes the stock market tick.
His opening routine is gaudy as hell - Lee sings and dances with women in hip-hop ensembles, puts on gloves and shadowboxes, and advises people to buy stock while saying "balls" a lot. He's a money entertainer, with a show called 'Money Monster', but people actually listen to him.
And it's all a metaphor, you see? Via these cheesy show-biz appropriations, director Jodie Foster is trying to convey the essential phoniness of Gates and the show. But even with several money-related metaphors firmly in place, the film thankfully doesn't take one the extremely righteous tone one expects from an Aaron Sorkin production.
So from the outset it's clear: Gates is mostly inflated ego. As he struggles to arrange lunch and air time with various financial figures, particularly the CEO of a company Gates has pitched as an amazing investment, we can also see that the talking head is not as powerful as his sense of self suggests.
And journalistic integrity? Forget about it.
Enter Kyle (Jack O'Connell), a very angry 20-something who lost his entire life's savings on a stock pitched by Gates on his "can't-miss stock tip of the millennium" segment.
After sneaking on set, armed with a gun and explosives, Kyle demands the loudmouth host becomes accountable for his role in pushing an unreliable investment.
Then you got Julia Roberts as Patty Fenn, the director of the show, who tries to keep everybody alive while sharing almost no screen time with any of the other actors. (Oh, by the way, Patty is about to quit the show and get a job at another network because working with Gates is such a pain and the show is such a joke.)
The dominos begin to fall quickly as more and more people get infected by a sudden burning need to know the truth - a truth they accepted easily just a while ago - as to how a "glitch" could make $800 million disappear in a matter of seconds.
So basically it takes a gun to the head to make a ridiculous talk show to do some actual journalism.
Beyond the scenes in the studio, the movie cuts away to the machinations of the NYPD every once in a while as they attempt to defuse the hostage crisis. And when the comedy/thriller hops from Manhattan to South Korea, South Africa and Iceland, you know the stakes are high.
There's also a bunch of moments that really defuse the situation - from a goofy moment with a new erectile cream and an exquisite rant from Kyle's girlfriend that's startling to say the least. It's explosive, and as a friend put it, an Oscar-winning acting moment.
Sure the movie is a bit of a mess, but it's at least a fun mess that never really gets boring.
A large part of that is because of the performances. Jack O'Connell is dynamite. George Clooney is fine; he usually does well in talking roles. But the moments he's meant to feel paralysing fear never really come through. What does come through is a dawning sense of responsibility and kinship with Budwell.
Roberts is at her Erin Brockovich best. Her character is smart and perceptive, but always guided by the whims of her demanding boss and his outsized personality.
What's incredibly striking about the movie is the presence of so many excellent actors known for their small-screen roles. You get some Dominic West from The Wire, Giancarlo Esposito from Breaking Bad and Lenny Venito from The Neighbours and a bunch more whose names (or at least character names) are at the tip of your tongue.
The movie also has a weird '90s retro feel to it, in part thanks to an early montage of TV financial new anchors talking of the glitch while Foster repeats and distorts the word like she's remixing some German techno from the decade.
The movie is competently made, but also perfunctory, telling us things about the greed of rich business executives and the shallowness of cable TV that we already know.
And if you care about your money, just watch the trailer - it gives away far too much.