There are a lot of things wrong with Money Monster (a lot, a lot of things), but the most glaring is that this movie has no idea what it is. It alternates between comedy, tense political thriller, and something resembling Bernie Sanders Presents Speed 3, with such lack of skill that there ends up being no core to hold onto, and nothing to care about.
The movie centers around George Clooney as Lee Gates, the host of the titular Money Monster, an obvious stand-in for Jim Cramer’s prop-heavy, off-the-wall stock market show Mad Money. Clooney is fantastic in the role, especially during the on-air segments. He’s silly and oddly sexy and he lets loose physically in a way we rarely get to see from him outside of a Coen Brothers movie. It’s a cross between this:
And this magic:
Clooney’s actual Money Monster clips are, hands-down, the best part of the movie, and could have made for one hell of a Saturday Night Live sketch. But it can’t fill a full movie, even one with a blessedly brief 100-minute runtime. Julia Roberts plays Patty Fenn, Gates’ producer, and their chemistry and banter are enjoyable, if painted with the broad strokes of a cliche 90’s standup comedian. (Cause see, he’s just super fun and “hasn’t eaten dinner alone since the ’90s,” and she’s all “work, work, work, lady stuff.” Differences!)
But then what I suppose is supposed to be the actual movie starts, and that’s when everything goes to hell. When a Regular Guy (the obviously named Kyle Budwell, played by Unbroken’s Jack O’Connell) hijacks a live taping of the show with a gun and an explosive-laden vest, Gates is forced to explain why he gave a recent bad stock tip on air. Kyle lost his own nest egg of $60,000, and now he wants revenge. Or just an explanation. Or something. And given how many people are still recovering from the financial crash of nearly a decade ago (which, hey, is maybe when this movie should have been set if they cared about little things like relevancy), this is not a terrible premise for a movie. But again, no one involved in this movie (including, surprisingly, director Jodie Foster) took any care at all to decide what it was they were making.
There are some hints at interesting ideas here. The ineffectual, misguided rage of blaming a cable news show for a personal financial loss, as well as the larger crisis is, in theory, powerfully sad. Except as the political thriller plotline takes over and a conspiracy begins to unfold, it begins to be clear that maybe it actually is the fault of this one show. It’s not the banks, or politicians, or any of the other infinite factors you may think. Your financial troubles? That disappearing middle class? It’s George Clooney’s fault! Simple!
You know that feeling you get when you watch Denise Richards play a scientist? Watching her brain behind slightly dead eyes try to keep up with the sciency words she clearly memorized phonetically? That’s this entire movie. I don’t know what kind of financial players were brought in to consult on this script, but the obvious guess would be “none.”
Similarly, our potential Everyman could be tragic in his desperation. Instead, he’s just pathetic. He’s a pawn in that vast corporate conspiracy plot, and easily forgotten, both by the other figures in the story, and by us. The film almost begins to perk up with shots of audiences watching Gates and Budwell’s live stand-off, which could, in a more carefully thought-out story, really hit home the idea that Budwell isn’t the only victim here. I spent much of the movie wanting the Truman Show version— the version that realizes that the people at home are as important to the story, if not more so. But no one here did take that much time to think things out. They wanted to remake Network, but didn’t realize why that movie’s shots of regular people screaming out their own windows were important to Peter Finch’s story. The people behind Money Monster don’t actually care if anyone else— the audience or the characters— is also mad as hell. And for the life of me, I can’t tell what they do care about. Who is this movie about, and who is it for? For the entire 100 minutes, neither is clear. From the constantly shifting tone to the simplistic narrative, to the underused supporting cast (what a goddamn waste of Giancarlo Esposito and Dominic West), as little thought went into this movie as you should give it from here on out. Namely, none at all.