2.5 stars (out of 4)
The Ocean’s franchise is now long gone, and the superstars have reunited. But after watching Money Monster, it’s the audience who might want to check its pockets. Despite the dream pairing and the timely topic of a Wall Street meltdown, the mildly entertaining hostage drama doesn’t quite add up. The film had its world premiere at the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 12 and opens wide May 13.
Money Monster is the name of an in-your-face live finance show on a CNBC-type network. It’s hosted by a charismatic smart-ass named Lee Gates (Clooney), who uses amusing graphics to make stock predictions and dances like a wild man at Bonnaroo when his picks pan out. Essentially, Clooney is playing a more boorish version of Clooney. (Note: This is most definitely not a problem).
His latest live show is going exactly as planned, at least as live shows go. The pretty backup dancers have just finished their bit; his unflappable director Patty (Roberts, steady but underused) is in the control room speaking into his earpiece; and a top executive from IBIS, a corporation that just plummeted in the market, is set to appear via satellite. Enter Kyle (Jack O’Connell, Unbroken), who storms the set with a gun and threatens to blow Lee’s brains out if his message isn’t broadcast to the masses.
Kyle made the mistake of listening to Lee’s prediction about buying into IBIS. Can you blame the guy? Lee said it was “safer than your savings account” and Patty agrees to roll the footage as proof. Now Kyle is $60,000 in the hole with a baby on the way. But he’s more steamed about the $800 million that IBIS lost and blamed on a cryptic computer glitch. He’s not just mad at the Monster; he’s raging at the Machine.
Though the movie unfolds in real time, it’s oddly devoid of tension. No matter how many times Kyle waves his gun in the air and threatens to detonate the place with a bomb, you never truly believe Lee’s life is in danger. (Maybe this is because the baby-faced O’Connell is as intimidating as a candy striper.) The SWAT team that’s plotting outside? Pure window dressing. Sure, that sniper on the rafters could aim and fire after everyone clears the building. He has multiple open shots! But then the film would be 36 minutes long.
The stakes also seem low. Audiences are watching on TVs all over the world and Lee’s impending death plays like just another story in a 24/7 news-cycle universe. A man could get assassinated on live TV and yet it’s entirely possible the headline could get bumped tomorrow if Beyonce drops another surprise album. Consider it the fallout of a popcorn flick too slick and frenetic for its own good. We don’t have time to learn about these characters to care about them.
Besides, Lee is not the bad guy here. Neither is Kyle. That lofty title goes to the head of IBIS (played by Dominic West), who has suspicious (and overly intricate) ties to South Africa. And the ultimate villain is the corrupt banking system. Anyone who turns on cable news knows this is a hot topic of the current political climate; alas, the director can’t finesse the point.
The director, by the way, is Jodie Foster — an A-lister in her own right who has worked with the likes of David Fincher (Panic Room) and Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver). Given that there is indeed a smart, nail-biting movie in here, it’s frustrating that Foster didn’t seem to learn much from those auteurs in creating suspense. In her May 13 press conference, Foster noted that her film hit the same notes as ’70s classics Dog Day Afternoon and Network. But some 40 years from now, Money Monster will likely only be remembered as the film in which Clooney and Roberts took their money … and ran to their next projects.
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