Review of “Money Monster”

If there are superstars in the world of financial television then Lee Gates (George Clooney) is then is the brightest. Gates’ show Money Monster features flashy graphics, back-up dancers and garish costumes. Gates would be unable to put together his show without long-time director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) who is able to deal with her star’s inability to stick with the script. While the show is live on the air, delivery man Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) walks on the set with a pair of boxes. When Gates sees him the host asks if the boxes are for him. That’s when Kyle pulls out a gun and takes Gates hostage. Patty cuts the feed but Kyle notices the screen going black and demands to be put back on the air or he will kill Gates. Patty puts the show back live and Kyle pulls out a piece of paper and begins giving a speech about how the system is rigged against the average working man. He blames Gates for his losing $60,000.00 in a stock called IBIS Global Capital that Gates called safer than a savings account but had crashed the previous day, losing $800-million in value due to what the company called a computer glitch. IBIS CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) was supposed to be a guest live on the show but cancelled at the last minute. Kyle orders Gates to open one of the boxes and inside finds a vest wired with enough plastic explosives to kill everyone within 50 feet. Kyle has his thumb on the button of a dead man’s switch and if he lets go, the vest will explode. Kyle wants answers and he intends to get them even if he has to kill some people. Patty, talking to Gates through a wireless earpiece, tries to keep the host calm and feed him information about Kyle and IBIS as well as suggestions for keeping Kyle engaged, his thumb on the bomb button and his finger off the trigger.

The trio of George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jack O’Connell makes “Money Monster” an engaging and entertaining film despite the fact the three are never on-screen all at the same time. Their characters create a kind of ultimate dysfunctional family that manages to coexist and even thrive despite their massive flaws. The film works largely because these three give riveting performances despite the weaknesses of the story that on closer examination doesn’t hold up that well.

Clooney is in full “Clooney” mode at the beginning of the film. Gates is full of himself, enamored with his lavish lifestyle and connections to the movers and shakers of Wall Street and big business. He believes his own hype and enjoys the benefits of his position. Later, after seeing the influence his words have on people like Kyle, Gates realizes his power over people’s lives and it puts the shallowness of his own day-to-day into perspective.

Gates begins to show signs of Stockholm syndrome and starts to feel empathy and pity for Kyle. He and Patty do everything they can find out what happened with IBIS and why Kyle lost all his money. That aspect of the story feels a bit implausible. Patty gets in contact with various contacts they have used in the past to track down what happened and why. It all falls together a little too neatly and makes for a crowd-pleasing conclusion to a story that is somewhat reminiscent to 2015’s far superior “The Big Short” that showed, when playing with people’s lives and savings, there is no happy ending.

The entire “hostage held on live TV” aspect of the story is a cheap gimmick that only works in a movie. A scene late in the film (that appears in the trailer) where Kyle and Gates walk down a crowded New York City street surrounded by cops and bystanders attracted to the news story is utterly ridiculous and would never be allowed to actually transpire. The scene this walk leads to is also completely unbelievable.

Despite these implausible aspects of the story, the film works as a piece of pop culture entertainment. It provides clear good guys and bad guys and even manages to turn the person with the gun into a victim of a rigged system. The feel-good aspects of the film overcome what in many other movies might be considered nails in the coffin and make “Money Monster” into a highly watchable financial thriller.

“Money Monster” is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence. There are a couple of shootings with very little blood. We see some sexual acts with very little nudity. I’m surprised the brief drug use isn’t mentioned but there is some of that as well. Foul language is common throughout the film.

Director Jodie Foster has managed to turn “Money Monster” into an entertaining film despite some glaring and obvious issues. Her terrific primary cast of George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jack O’Connell also has a winning chemistry that creates sincere interest and empathy. If any lesser elements had been in place, “Money Monster” would have been a losing proposition.

“Money Monster” gets four stars out of five.

This week three comedies hope to make you laugh your way to the box office. I’ll see and review at least one of these films.

The Angry Birds Movie—

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising—

The Nice Guys—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

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