The selling power of George Clooney and Julia Roberts may not be what it once was, but its their shared on-screen chemistry is what keeps you glued to the screen when the other elements of the Jodie Foster directed financial thriller meets hostage flick Money Monster begin to falter. It’s a classic case of third act misfire, driven primarily by a reckless abandon for the firm grasp on reality the rest of the film yearns to achieve, but overall the good still outweighs the bad.
Lee Gates (Clooney) is the sleazy and oblivious host of Money Monster, a stock market tips and tricks series that finds the Wall Street guru offering advice to help the American everyman strike it rich. He’s endlessly vain and barely tolerable, but his ratings keep him and his crew employed, including his soon to be departing producer, Patty Fenn (Roberts). During a live broadcast on a day like any other a disgruntled investor named Kyle (Jack O’Connell) bursts onto the stage with a gun in hand and takes Lee hostage. He informs Lee and the viewers at home that he lost all his money on an investment Lee claimed to be “safer than your savings account” due to what is being reported as a glitch in an algorithm. Kyle believes this answer is no answer at all, and he seeks the truth at any cost.
The CEO behind the scandal, Walt Camby (Dominic West), is nowhere to be found when Kyle first storms the Money Monster set. He’s somewhere flying high over the planet in his private jet while millions of viewers from every corner of the Earth tune in to watch a financially driven hostage situation play out on live television. Kyle is certainly not the only person who lost something due to the so-called glitch, and he’s definitely not the only one who wants answers. Even Lee, who realizes a little too late that his character and reputation have been soiled so someone other than him could get rich, wants to know the truth.
Foster directed Money Monster with a script from Jim Kouf, Jamie Linden, and Alen Di Fiore. For every original step the film takes, three all too familiar ones often follow. The first two acts have wonderful pacing a very realistic sense of sustained suspense as the mystery surrounding the glitch slowly begins to unravel, but things come a bit off the rails as the film attempts to up the ante with an overblown and unbelievable, yet completely literal march through the streets of New York City at gun point. It’s the kind of big reveal that I would only mention here if the promotional campaign had already spoiled the fun, and that is unfortunately the case with many of Money Monster’s best moments. Anyone who was sold on the film based on the trailer knows Lee and Kyle will eventually go outside, which in turn minimizes the impact of the scenes in the studio. By the time the film reaches a point where viewers don’t know what is coming next the credits are less than ten minutes away, and even then what is left is nothing to write home about.
There are moments early in Money Monster where the film attempts to comment on consumerism and our lack of empathy towards the plight of our fellow man, but those points are largely tossed aside once the mystery of the glitch makes itself known. Narratively speaking, the film becomes so focused on its central mystery it forgets to tell the human side of the story, as well as the impact witnessing such a situation unfold on television might have on culture at large. The film attempts to return to these ideas once the main arc is resolved, but it happens so close to the credits that each message feels shoehorned in almost as an afterthought. The points being made are clear, but they arrive with all the craftsmanship and basement level intelligence of an after school special. It’s not that Money Monster believes its audience to be stupid, but it certainly doesn’t think they are smart, or at least not smart enough to grasp the very basic messages it hopes to convey.
Roberts and Clooney are entirely enjoyable in the roles, as is O’Connell. Once the story begins to slide off the rails it’s really their performances that make Money Monster worth your time. There are many similar financial thrillers with better observations and far more pleasing conclusions, but none of them have a trio of leads who seem so natural in their roles that you’re willing to overlook any narrative shortcoming that may arise. If the film’s finale was as grounded in reality as the rest of the film, perhaps leveraging our shared fears of financial struggles in the modern economy instead of further pursuing a bizarre hostage team-up, Money Monster could have been something great. As is, the latest modestly budgeted dramatic thriller to hit theaters against big budget superhero films and similar summer tentpole fare is equally enjoyable and forgettable. Invest your time and money if you must, but know there is a moderate risk of letdown.