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Money Monster
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Bucks Disappear Here"
2 stars

Over the course of her first three outings as a feature film director, Jodie Foster has shown herself to be just as interesting and idiosyncratic behind the camera as she has been in front of it since she was still in her cavity-prone years. One could quibble about the individual merits of those films—“Little Man Tate” (1990), “Home for the Holidays” (1995) and “The Beaver” (2011)—but they are all clearly the offerings of someone who has specific and deeply felt ideas and concerns that they wish to put across and not just a piece of anonymous product made by someone going through the motions. With her latest directorial effort, “Money Monster,” Foster appears to be attempting what Spike Lee did when he made “The Inside Man” (which she costarred in, coincidentally enough)—make a slick hostage drama that may not be an especially personal artistic statement but which nevertheless contains enough real-world concerns to keep it from being just a mindless potboiler. However, while Lee was able to make entertaining work out of “The Inside Man” (which remains his biggest box office hit to date) thanks to his sheer technical skills as a filmmaker, “Money Monster” shows that Foster is not the kind of director who can simply cruise by on technical expertise. She needs a story that holds some kind of personal resonance to her and if that is lacking, as is the case here, she is not able to make it into much of anything of interest, regardless of her skills as a director.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, a smarmy and self-absorbed doofus who is the host of a “Mad Money”-style cable financial investment show that finds him doling out dubious investment advice with the aid of silly costumes, backup dancers and enough ironic film clips to suggest that Oliver Stone is manning the control board. Actually, that job is handled by long-suffering director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), a decent sort who has been slinging up Lee’s slick silliness for far too long and who has secretly made plans to leave her job for presumably greener and more serious-minded pastures. Even if she weren’t quietly getting ready to make her move, this day’s show would be more complicated as usual thanks to the recent cratering of Ibis Clear Capital, a firm whose stock Lee has been raving about for weeks and which recently lost upwards of $800 million in capital, ostensibly due to an inexplicable software glitch. Lee is supposed to be interviewing the company’s CEO (Dominic West) but when he mysteriously vanishes in his private jet with no suggestion as to his whereabouts, CCO Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) is standing by via satellite to reiterate all the standard talking points that are all to familiar to those who remember Enron, WorldCom and all the other infamous financial sinkholes of our times. Everyone is so concerned with doing their jobs without rocking any boats that no one even notices that a deliveryman has wandered onto the set until he steps in front of the cameras with a gun and explosives to take Lee and the studio hostage on live television.

That intruder is Kyle Bushwell (Jack O’Connell), a working-class dope from Queens who, like so many others before him, has become convinced that starting an Ameritrade account and listening to the likes of Lee is all that one has to do to become fabulously rich. Having lost all of his money investing in Ibis and outraged by the lack of any sort of accountability, Kyle is demanding an explanation as to how $800 million could suddenly vanish in an instant for no apparent reason and will blow up the studio if no answers are forthcoming. While the cops outside try to find a way to nullify the situation and generally only make things worse in the process, Lee, Patty and Diane, from their respective perches, begin to ask the hard questions that should have been brought up a long time ago and which seem to point towards a major conspiracy. However, will they be able to put the pieces in time to prevent either the cops from storming in and taking out Kyle or Kyle taking out the studio by letting go of the trigger to the bomb vest strapped to Lee?

“Money Matters” feels as if it began life as a story that wanted to grapple head-on with the inequities and machinations of the current financial markets that seem to have been designed specifically to benefit an elite few while leaving the rest holding the proverbial bag, only to face opposition from producers convinced that audiences would not sit still for a film that tried to pull the curtain back on how the economic game was played in a relatively straightforward manner. Presumably to make those ideas more palatable, those ideas were instead shoehorned into an overly familiar hostage drama/media inquiry that plays like a shotgun marriage of such classics as “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Network” with a smattering of recent headlines thrown in for good measure. Even if the resulting screenplay had been smart and clever, it might have seemed a little archaic because, as the recent success of “The Big Short” proved, audiences are actually willing to explore the ins and outs of contemporary financial chicanery without getting confused or needing the genre trappings of a hostage drama to help the medicine go down. Unfortunately, instead of being smart and clever, it is more often clunky and silly than anything else and rarely comes close to working. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t work because the condemnations of corporate malfeasance ring hollow throughout, the conspiracy aspect is too thinly sketched in to be convincing and it pretty much lets the media, in the form of shows like Lee’s, off the hook for their insistence that anyone can hit it big instantly in the investment world. As for the story itself, it is so haphazardly constructed that it never comes together as a thriller or much of anything else—let me just say that if you have written a screenplay that requires such elements as erectile dysfunction cream, a security detail for a live television show broadcast in post 9/11 New York that is less stringent than the one on display at my gym and the last-minute inclusion of a couple of hackers in Iceland to suddenly supply all the necessary information for the climax, you might want to consider a rewrite.

Like the screenplay, the performances are pretty much all over the place as well. Clooney has a lot of fun in the opening scenes skewering the kind of clowns that have helped the media become more and more of a joke over the years but when Lee has his eyes opened and begins to realize the damage being caused by people taking his schtick seriously, the shift to a more serious tone does not quite come off. As his friendlier foil by a hair, Roberts is perfectly fine but since the vast majority of her performance is conveyed through being overheard in Lee’s earpiece, her presence is slightly distracting—it might have been more effective if Foster herself had taken the part. On the other hand, Jack O’Connell is kind of awful as the chump with a bomb and a grudge—the British-born actor deploys a Brooklyn accent that suggests an iff-Broadway revival of “Guys & Dolls” and which never works at all. Frankly, the best performance in the film—the best thing about the whole film, in fact—comes from a young actress named Emily Reade, who turns up as Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend in the inevitable scene in which the loved one is brought in by the cops to try to reason with the hostage taker. This iteration, however, goes off in an entirely unexpected and entertaining direction and a good part of that comes from the weird energy that she brings to what could have been the most forgettable of parts.

For her part, Foster directs these elements with a certain degree of skill but that is simply not enough to overcome the deficiencies of the screenplay—there is a noticeable lack of tension throughout the proceedings and even when something does work from a directorial standpoint, such as the decision to tell the story more or less in real time, there is another aspect that doesn’t, most notably a would-be rabble-rousing climax that explicitly tries to evoke both the menace and dark humor of “Dog Day Afternoon” but never quite makes it. “Money Monster” is a film that has most of the ingredients for a potentially strong drama but lacks the kind of through line necessary to pull them all together. In the hands of another filmmaker, I might not have minded the flaws quite as much but coming from someone of Foster’s caliber—especially considering the fact that she is not exactly the most prolific of directors—it has to go down as a bit of a disappoint that, much like the stock at its center, never quite lives up to its advanced hype.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=29672&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/12/16 13:35:45
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User Comments

8/13/16 Langano Promising opening but fizzled out at the end. 3 stars
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  13-May-2016 (R)
  DVD: 06-Sep-2016


  DVD: 06-Sep-2016

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