A film that finds a logical reason for the police to shoot a show host on live television, and makes the reason for shooting said host to be for the host’s own good, is a film that is not entirely devoid of interest. MONEY MONSTER is such a film, and this is a good thing, because it’s also a film that blithely takes leave of any sense of credibility shortly after it begins. Ably directed by Jodie Foster, with fine performances from George Clooney as the television host, and Jack O’Connell as the reason the police want to shoot, it suffers from a glib script that gives short shrift to a serious issue.
The title refers to the television show hosted by Lee Gates (Clooney) that takes a razzle-dazzle approach to financial analysis. Costumes, gimmicks, and coochie dancers frame the host’s patter about what stock is hot, and which is not. Like everyone else, he swallows the hype and regurgitates it for his viewers. Alas, one of his tips, a sure-fire winner from a capital investment first names Ibis, turns out to be less than stellar. Actually, it tanks, losing $800 million dollars in one day courtesy of a computer glitch with its algorithm. Don’t worry, there will be some exposition about algorithms later in the film. Before we get there, though, there will be Kyle Budwell (O’Connell), a small-time investor who took Gates’ advice and lost everything. In return, he’s determined to find out exactly how that happened and in order to get the attention of the world and get those answers, he sneaks onto the set while the show is in progress and takes Gates hostage, snuggling him into a bomb-laden vest for good measure, one that will explode if Budwell takes his thumb off the bomb’s remote-control button.
What ensues unfolds in real time, which is one of the great weaknesses of the script. For Gates’s director, a cranky looking Julia Roberts, to uncover the story behind the massive loss of capital, track down the CEO of Ibis (Dominic West), and make sure that Budwell is always in the best possible camera angle, strains credulity to its breaking point. Staggering coincidences become the norm, and the attempts to make them seem reasonable with egregious exposition amid the increasingly overwrought action. Most irksome, insulting really, is the key plot point of a house in the New York City area selling for a mere $60,000.
The discoveries offer little in the way of surprise. There are the usual bad guys doing the usual bad things for reasons of pure greed. They are one-dimensional stock characters and we know that they are particularly heinous because they insist on referring to Ibis’ CCO (Caitriona Balfe) as a girl, not as a woman.
As for Gates and Budwell, like the film itself, they are by turns comic, satirical, and melodramatic. Not that Clooney doesn’t essay the sudden changes of mood without aplomb, charismatically exploring cockiness, vulnerability, and ego-deflation. His mid-film discourse, as he, ahem takes stock (the film’s pun, not mine) of his life with a variation of John Donne’s “No Man is An Island” theme is suitably touching even as the film cuts away to various people watching the drama unfold in order to make some obvious points about the public’s inability to distinguish between reality television and reality. O’Connell brings a fine little boy lost quality to a man pushed over the edge, making the necessary bonding between Gates and Budwell work.
MONEY MONSTER is a popcorn indictment of the sort of unrestrained and unregulated financial sleight-of-hand that was handled so much better in THE BIG SHORT. It’s not without its moments as it stumbles along a very familiar path, but those moments barely make it worth investing our capital in seeing it.