Write it off
by Thomas Delapa
Looking for a hot insider tip on Money Monster?
Then save your eight bucks. This George Clooney/Julia Roberts Wall Street suspense satire is flat, warmed-over road kill.
While two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Jodie Foster uneasily returns to the director’s chair for her fourth feature, she strands her under-performing stars in what adds up (or down) to a low-caliber shotgun merger between Dog Day Afternoon, Network and The China Syndrome. Unless Foster has her own hedge fund, she shouldn’t look for career dividends any time soon.
Nobody yells “Attica! Attica!” or “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” out the window, but Foster’s scriptwriters borrow from so many topical 1970s dramas that they must be paying a monster interest rate. For starters, he-e-e-re’s Lee Gates (Clooney) the slick, smarmy host of a cable-TV financials show, a man so vacuously fatuous that you know he’s a sure bet for a coast-to-coast comeuppance. Next up is uninvited surprise guest Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), a Queens palooka who’s, yes, mad as hell at the damn rich since he lost his life savings on one of Gates’ bum stock tips. Standing tall, very tall, behind them is Roberts’ Patty Fenn, the show’s sharp, super-cool, alpha-female producer and Foster’s moral conscience in the vast wasteland of 24-7 tabloid TV.
Reunited from their cash-cow Ocean’s Eleven reboots, Clooney and Roberts slowly sink carrying the star ballast, though they can hardly shoulder all the blame. If Clooney once had promise as a cheeky Hollywood throwback to the likes of Clark Gable, he’s now so annoyingly mannered (cocking his head for every emphatic line), that by now his performances are all reruns. If Foster got a bum tip from her agent before buying into this project, she doesn’t do her leads any favors either, inflating the story with overwrought acting and a manic shooting style that papers over the yawning holes in the story’s junk-bond rated logic.
The net result is a cheap, remote-controlled financial thriller that chews up and spits out every populist cliché this side of Oliver Stone and Bernie Sanders. Not a few minutes into Gates’ “Money Monster” daily show, Budwell crashes the set, armed with handgun, made-for-TV hysteria, and an explosive vest designed with the now-cowering host in mind. With the whole world watching—absurdly, even in distant Iceland and Korea—Budwell shouts his million-dollar hostage demands, profanely punctuated with slogans (“The system is rigged!”) that could be coming from both the left and right in today’s angry, un-moneyed U.S. electorate.
Foster is too busy tossing mud and her camera around to seriously ask why (or even if) a blue-collar bud like Budwell would foolishly blow everything he has on a stock-market whim. Those are the sort of questions she simply runs over, content to feed us clichéd lines like those printed on Gates’ cue cards or whispered in his earpiece by his all-knowing, all-seeing producer. No, it’s enough for us to get that Gates is a boorish show-biz charlatan and behind him lurks an even bigger, villainous one—the uber-greedy CEO (Dominic West) of a shadowy finance company that suspiciously lost $800 million in stock value overnight. This guy isn’t just a capitalist pig but a chauvinist one to boot, treating his leggy staffer and mistress (Caitriona Balfe) with oily “That’s my girl” patriarchal condescension.
Foster wears her gender politics on her rolled-up left sleeve, bluntly separating not the men from the boys, but her sharp, ultra-capable females from their obvious lessers—their clueless, often-monstrous male counterparts. Not only does Roberts serve as Foster’s quietly heroic center, she’s the real power behind Gates’ chintzy Dow Jones throne, feeding him lines and keeping him and everyone else cool under crisis pressure. Her partner in distaff kickass-ness is that model-thin staffer, who instantly evolves from corporate mouthpiece and concubine into crusading detective faster you can say Erin Brockovich, digging up the dirt on her boss’ shady globe-trotting missions in his private jet. Back at the studio, the New York City SWAT cops called to the scene recklessly reach for their guns and insults first; it’s no surprise the only exception is a lowly (black) policewoman whom Foster calls to duty only to blow the whistle on her trigger-happy blue crew.
Hollywood insiders might think that with Foster, Clooney & Roberts in charge, Money Monster would be too big to fail. But that’s what they said about Enron, AIG , Lehman Brothers and Johnny Depp’s Lone Ranger.
In other words, don’t bet on a box-office bail-out. My money is on audiences bailing out.