Money Monster positions itself as an angst-filled rallying cry, but for something that so desperately wants to insight impoverished rage, its voice couldn’t be more monotone. Maybe that’s because The Big Short better addresses financial outrage, or because three writers (Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf) jam-pack their personal attack on Jim Cramer with an embarrassing amount of corruption clichés. A hackneyed suicide plot and an unfocused agenda that reeks of 90s paranoia? Even George Clooney’s dashingly obnoxious buffoonery can’t save Jodie Foster’s return to the director’s chair, as Money Monsters steadily – and aggressively – dips lower and lower into the red with each passing second.
In an age dominated by Wall Street and big business, television personalities have become a trusted resource for investment advice – and there’s none better than Money Monster’s Lee Gates (George Clooney). Episode by episode, Gates works his on-camera charms to guide people through the ups and downs of buying stocks, with a little razzle-dazzle for show. But Gates’ brash tactics must be tamed, and it’s his super-producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) who ensures Money Monster stays on-air – but not for much longer. Gates has no idea his partner-in-crime accepted a rival offer, as he unknowingly opens the last show they’ll ever work on together. That’s when a disgruntled viewer (Jack O’Connell) takes the production hostage, demanding answers from Gates – and his slotted guest, CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) – after a sure-fire stock goes up in flames.
Right off the bat, we’re hit with the first of many horrid, thoughtless clichés that poison Money Monster. Of course it’s producer Patty Fenn’s last day, as she faces – wait for it – HER TOUGHEST CHALLENGE YET. And of course Walt Camby can’t be found when questions arise concerning a catastrophic “glitch” that loses investors $800 million, because – wait for it – THE GLITCH MIGHT BE A RUSE! Gates is the media douchebag with a heart of gold, Jack O’Connell’s character Kyle is a martyr for a broken system, and crew members sacrifice their lives in the name of showbusiness (and shitty union wages?). Shoot a hole in a rowboat and you know what’ll happen next – it sinks. That same theory applies to the predictability of Money Monster – sinking feeling and all.
But what about the clichés that AREN’T plot devices? What about Camby’s lower-ranking chief officer, Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe), who OBVIOUSLY is having an affair with Camby, because women can’t achieve and attain professional power without falling for their swoon-worthy boss. To make matters worse, Camby throws in a line about Lester knowing him better than his actual wife (suggesting Lester accepts her homewrecker fate) – a uselessly perverse angle to Lester that adds zero depth or understanding. Clichés are one thing, but degrading characters for no reason is the lowest form of falsified drama.
Even though Money Monster belittles characters without remorse, it’s still a delight to watch George Clooney in action. In no way does his “fraudulent” fiduciary wiz save the film’s limp-wristed social satire, but Lee Gates roasts the right personalities with conviction. Those who stand in front of a camera, begging people to gamble away their money while wearing thousand-dollar suits and gold-plated shoes. O’Connell’s loser has every right to revolt against people who swear investments are “safer than a savings account,” and Clooney’s jester finds genuine humility when watching Money Monster clips from an audience’s perspective.
But you’re here for Gates’ show-intro dance numbers – complete with scantily clad backup talents – because a gyrating Clooney is everything you didn’t know your life needed.
Sadly, this is propaganda without conviction. The biggest takeaways for viewers are the following – rich people are meanies, corruption is real and you don’t matter. Us middle-classers are just guppies being swallowed by sharks, and whether or not the sharks admit they’re wrong makes no difference. Sure, there’s provocative subtext about believing in false financial Gods – the Lee Gates’ of our world – because responsibility must be owned. Gates reminds us that we only complain during the worst of beats (losing $60K qualifies), but not when the dough is rolling in. Cold-blooded? Yes – but that’s what happens when you find yourself consumed by the “money monster.”
It’s too bad that Gates’ inquisitive words trigger a momentum-halting question – why do we care about Kyle Budwell at all? O’Connell’s thick “New Yawka” accent doesn’t distract from a criminal who garners no sympathy. Kyle is just an angry, hapless personification of economic fears. We want to root for the character most representative of our own interests, but dimwit Kyle never becomes that hero. Give me Gates and Fenn spending an entire movie grilling subjects – Gates in the trenches, Fenn in his ear. Adding Kyle, C4, and certain death to the mix only exposes the lack of thoughtlessness put into this soap-box rant, and sends it down a uniquely bland B-Movie path.
Money Monster is never thrilling, sparsely tense, and ineffectively numbing. What’s the point here. “Exposing” how corporations are run by greedy, untrustworthy backstabbers obsessed with monetary gain? Yes. I’m aware. We all lived the financial crisis that dismantled Lehman Brothers. It’s years later, and all you can muster is a film that confirms we’re all still screwed? Trust me. I know. I see taxes deflate my paycheck twice a month. The cost of living keeps inflating (seriously – the rent is too damn high), while my salary range stays the same. Americans face financial struggles each and every day, none of which are addressed by this childish lash-out that refuses to think before it acts.
If you ask me, that’s even more dangerous than a maniac waving a gun.
A movie that says so little does not deserve this star-studded cast.