Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster” simply can’t resist hitting generic Wall Street targets over and again. In between, it tells a compelling story of a man pushed too far, and another of a cad who finds a semblance of a soul.
It doesn’t go the full “Big Short.” Instead, it meshes some unexpected grace notes with sledgehammer storytelling in the final act.
A ’70s film of its ilk would have added more grit, more realism. And it wouldn’t fall so hard for lazy storytelling tropes.
George Clooney is Lee Gates, a cartoonish Wall Street guru and host of the equally cartoonish “Money Monster” show. He sings. He dances. He prances. And, in between, he gives smarmy stock tips embellished by sound effects.
His no-nonsense producer (Julia Roberts) strokes his ego and keeps him in line. She deserves hazard pay, and he loves her for it.
That bond matters when a gunman breaks into the show’s studio and demands answers for a calamitous stock crash.
Kyle (“Unbroken’s” Jack O’Connell) lost big after a fictional company lost $800 million thanks to an algorithm “glitch.” Now, he wants answers. Does Lee have them? If not, can he find them before the bomb vest Kyle forces him to wear takes out the entire “Money Monster” studio?
Foster keeps the tension ratcheted as tightly as needed. She also makes sure this New York-based story feels authentic. The supporting players look and act like they grew up in The Bronx, and that color extends to the film’s frequent bursts of humor.
The film’s big mystery, though, wouldn’t stump the teens of Mystery, Inc.
What “Money Monster” desperately needs is an adult in the room willing to pull some of the ideological punches. By the time Robert Reich appears on screen it’s already too late. We’re supposed to shake our fists at The Man during the closing credits.
That makes some of the story’s select twists all the more surprising. We learn more about Kyle’s personal life than audiences will expect, breaking up the film’s predictable streak.
The film does take full advantage of its modern-day setting in one aspect. It excoriates the media, from how it skimps over serious news to infotainment masquerading as journalism.
“We don’t do ‘gotcha’ journalism here,” Roberts’ character says before murmuring, “We don’t do any journalism here.”
That’s a rich message coming from Clooney and co., whose preferred presidential candidate has gotten a free pass from the press. Just ask Charlie Rose, who thinks the lies associated with ObamaCare, the ones the media didn’t bother to vet, are an absolute riot.
The thought is sincere all the same. And timely.
Roberts, the dominant star of the ’90s, holds the story’s illogical moments together with her sober line readings.
Clooney couldn’t have chosen a better role for him at this stage in his career. His Lee Gates is hopelessly flawed but so charming you almost forgive him. The actor knows how to flirt with decency while being wholly indecent.
Had “Money Monster” been churned out in the ’70s, Kyle’s character would have carried the narrative. Think “Dog Day Afternoon,” a tale that overwhelms “Monster” by comparison.
That was then. Now, stories about Wall Street must cluck-cluck their tongues while entertaining us. “Money Monster” is never dull. It just doesn’t trust audiences enough not to light up its anti-Wall St. memes with klieg lights.