Title: Money Monster
Seriously, "Money Monster?" Barring a 2016 Adam Sandler release, this is pretty much a lock for worst movie title of the year.
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Page: "Senator, there's a problem at the essay contest!"
Senator: "Please, son, I'm very busy."
Page: "A little girl is losing faith in democracy!"
Senator: "Good Lord!"
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two and a half Bernie Madoffs out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Angry citizen takes over TV studio to complain about the capricious nature of the stock market.
Tagline: "Not every conspiracy is a theory."
Better Tagline: "Not every embezzlement is a conspiracy."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Lee Gates (George Clooney), host of the popular financial show Money Monster, offers stock tips and the occasional tidbit of cogent commentary about the market. Things are going along swimmingly until the show is hijacked by Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell), a blue-collar type who, it turns out, lost all his money following Gates's advice. Budwell threatens to blow up Gates (and the studio) if he doesn't get some answers, so it falls to show director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to keep her host and everyone else alive in the meantime, even if she is One Day From Retirement.
"Critical" Analysis: Money Monster feels like someone was casting about for story ideas and happened to watch that 2009 Daily Show episode where Jon Stewart eviscerated CNBC's Jim Cramer over his statements during the housing crash and the bank crisis. Clooney's Gates is essentially a more debonair Cramer, and his show more or less apes the format of Mad Money, right down to the inclusion of stupid props and costumes.
Where the movie differs is in positing what would happen if — instead of rationally using Cramer's arguments against him — Stewart had held a gun to his head and screamed a lot.
That's not an entirely accurate analogy. Budwell, serving as the audience's outrage avatar, is a working-class dude with little apparent grasp of the intricacies of the stock market. His focus is also less on the overall structural weaknesses in the financial industry than it is on a suspicious "glitch" in the trading algorithm of a fund called Ibis that caused it to crater to the tune of $800 million in one day, taking all of our angry young man's life savings with it.
Money Monster is shot through with weird tonal inconsistencies. It's billed (and advertised) as a thriller, yet boasts a number of blackly humorous moments playing on the subversion of hostage movie tropes (Gates's appeal to the humanity of his viewers and the appearance of Budwell's girlfriend chief among these). Other times it seems like director Jodie Foster and company want to condemn the financial system, but then the film backs away and settles on pointing the finger at rogue hedge fund leader Walt Camby (Dominic West).
Roberts is surprisingly(?) good, and Foster wisely leverages her natural hard-assedness for the role of Fenn. Clooney, on the other hand, is wrong for this. The character of Lee Gates calls for someone with less gravitas than Clooney (if "gravitas" is the right word for a Nexpresso pitchman). He's unconvincing as a shallow TV boob, but at least he's not supremely grating, like O'Connell. Budwell bellows endlessly about the glitch that supposedly caused Ibis to crash and whines about the unfairness of it all. Gee, kid, sorry the massive slot machine that is the NYSE didn't hit the three '7's you were expecting.
Looking at it more closely, it's easy to imagine what ended up in theaters is different than what was originally envisioned (which makes a certain sense, considering this movie is about five years too late). Three screenwriters worked on Money Monster, one (Jamie Linden) best known for syrup-fests We Are Marshall and Dear John, another (Jim Kouf) responsible for more...prestigious fare like Snow Dogs, Operation Dumbo Drop and Up the Creek (now there's a movie screaming for the Michael Bay remake treatment). The result is a mishmash of viewpoints, overlaid with stylistic touches no doubt inspired by the success of last year's The Big Short.
There's the hint of revolutionary spark in Money Monster, but it's almost like Foster and company know the uphill climb they have. As Gates's fate is sealed and the throngs watching the show dissipate, it reminds us of that scene in Tommy Boy where the diner waitress asks her customers if they'd rather watch the Everyman protagonist stick it to the man or American Gladiators. Of course, they chose the latter, and unfortunately, our attention spans have only gotten worse. If America's underclass didn't rise up back in 2009 when the outrage was still fresh, they're not about to yank themselves away from the Kardashians now.