Movie Review: “Money Monster”

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Director Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster” aims high, an attempt to be a riotous, righteous Jeremiad about our “rigged” financial system and the TV hustlers who try to pass off hype as “business news.”

It never quite gets there, never quite takes flight as a “romp” or achieves the level of satire. It’s not a “Network” for our times.

But a game cast and a reasonably tense take on a topic that is a major component of this election year’s zeitgeist — financial cheats stealing from America, and never brought to justice — make it work.

George Clooney is Lee Gates, a gimmicky, shtick-loving anchor/pundit for the Financial News Network’s popular “Money Monster” show. He dances, he jokes, he hypes. He’s flip and glib and acts as if it’s all “Other People’s Money.”

The only difference between Clooney’s Gates and real-life TV clowns like Jim Cramer is the hair, and we don’t actually want Gates shot or blown up by the end of “Money Monster.”

Because that could be his fate, thanks to one ill-informed, super-hyped stock tip too many. A delivery guy (Jack O’Connell) gets onto the set of his live show, pulls a gun and makes Gates don a bomb vest. The overwrought Kyle lost his shirt when IBIS Financial dropped $800 million in a single afternoon.

The CEO (Dominic West) is nowhere to be found. And the only explanation the company gives is that its automated, super-fast investment algorithm experienced “a glitch.”

Kyle fires shots into the ceiling, locks the doors and traps the crew and director (Julia Roberts) in their Manhattan studio.

“I’m not the REAL criminal,” he shouts. “It’s rigged. It’s all fixed! They literally OWN the airwaves!”

He wants answers. And he’s hellbent on getting them.

“I came in knowing I’m not walking out.”

Clooney lets us see the panic and growing sense of guilt Gates might feel at putting everybody he works with in mortal danger with “research” and tips that are basically corporate press releases. And yeah, a lot more people than Kyle were taken in by his hype.

Roberts’ director, Patti, has already joked that “We don’t do JOURNALISM here,” but her think-on-her-feet competence gets a lot of people out of the building when the chips are down. Can she remember enough of her journalist past to find the answers before that bomb goes off?

There are the inevitable hostage drama benchmarks (Giancarlo Esposito is the head cop), but the script finds laugh-out-loud surprises in those. However, Foster squanders the story’s urgency with slack direction that robs the thriller of its ticking clock.

The communications director (Caitriona Balfe) of IBIS isn’t the rigid stonewaller the story needs her to be. The reporting shortcuts are what passes for “deus ex machina” in the movies these days — computer nerds/hackers reached by cell-phone.

And truth be told, the movie pulls its punches when it comes to business cable TV’s culpability in all this.

But after a TV-savvy opening, with Gates and Patti seat-of-the-pantsing a dazzling, ditzy show, the outrage flares up and never drops below a simmer.

And Foster moves us ever-so-cleverly onto the fence about whether this Cramerish clown should die for his sins, even if he looks like George Clooney. That’s why the world drops what it’s doing to watch.

And that’s the money emotion of “Money Monster” — unfocused rage finally given something to that rage at, if only for 98 minutes.

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MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence.

Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito
Credits: Directed by Jodie Foster, script by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Koif. A Sony/Tristar release.

Running time: 1:38

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