Money Monster Movie Review

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Money Monster (2016)

Money Monster Movie Review

A perfectly fine middle-budget thriller with enough on its mind.
There are a couple of things to note right up front about Money Monster, the first film directed by Jodie Foster in quite some time and reuniting Clooney and Roberts (remember them from the Ocean's Eleven flicks? or, you know, the two they were in together? good times) - first, I think it's important that if you do decide to go see this movie, see it in a theater (I'd say a matinée price works best, maybe not quite full price). It's the kind of movie that Lynda Obst has outlined in her book 'Sleepless in Hollywood' as being as something of an endangered species: the middle budget Hollywood genre movie with some big name stars and a plot that's appealing to a mass audience (so it's not quite an "indie" movie, but it's not something that crosses 100 million with elaborate special effects).

Though these movies became a bit tiring (or more than a bit depending on who you are) by the early 00's, in the landscape where there's either comic book movies (Marvel, DC, etc) or comic book movies in look and tone as franchises (Fast & Furious, Hunger Games, etc), a story like this where a guy holds a Jim Kramer type of cable 'news' personality and his crew hostage on live TV seems almost refreshing, at least as far as being something that's only pretense is that, you know, the economy collapsed not too long ago and confidence in things like the stock market should suck (though it seemed to have rebounded not too soon after 2008), and it's made professionally.


The other thing to note here is that just because it's a highly entertaining dramatic thriller as far as the nuts-and-bolts of such a thing are put together - the actors are just right, with Roberts being the anchor for things to not get out of control as the director of the show, and even small players like Dominic West as the CEO of the company that (seemingly) screwed over Jack O'Connell's gun-and-bomb toting show hijacker, and Clooney's Clooney so that's good - it doesn't meant there aren't flaws.

You've seen this before if you've seen, I don't know, Dog Day Afternoon or John Q (the latter's lessor than this but you may get an idea, the "Just hostage-taker" scenario), and even Inside Man, which featured Foster in a supporting role. Things to do with logic like the amount of security that should/would be in an area where a major cable show is being produced, or how the whole last third unfolds (and if you've seen the trailer, and it's hard to avoid it if you've been to the movies in the past few months, it shows you this section in pieces so you anticipate it) is implausible.

But there's a lot of good drama to mine here, and buried underneath its quick and fast-paced plot mechanics it does have something to say about not just how the American people continually get duped into things like going for stocks (or at least the ones who can afford it or try to like O'Connell's working class character), but the power of celebrity. There's a wonderful little scene where Clooney's Lee Gates tries to dissuade this bomb-that's-going-to-go-off scenario by talking to the tens of millions (I should think more, depending on who has cable around the world, but I digress) and appeals to them to contribute money so that the stock can bulk up for the company that screwed over O'Connell's character. It's the kind of performance where it feels like a performance, but in a good way: it's self-knowing and Clooney plays up to it, and when the outcome of this happens (and it's not pleasant) the emphasis on this whole 'image' that Lee Gates has perpetuated comes back to bite him in the ass.


So there's a lot of little sections that work and good character actors sprinkled throughout (Esposito, Jim Warden, John Ventimiglia), and it all boosts up what is fairly conventional and yet everything is there for the drama of this type of movie. Its even funny, in a bleak, sardonic sort of way, in a few moments (and one that's kind of weak, let's say it involves a sort of cream for your area that's, oh nevermind). I wish it was a little more strong with certain story details, but it's comforting in a way even as character yell and curse and stand-offs happen and rise and fall. Put it another way, if you want a less 'cluttered' take on stock fraud than The Big Short, look here, and if you want to spend some time away and to watch something with a few good Hollywood superstars, it's good on that end.

I gotta admit that I have had a "man crush" on George Clooney for quite some time - probably dating back to his days on ER.  I loved his screen "coming out party" OUT OF SIGHT (an under-rated gem, check it out).  I thought he was terrific in THE PERFECT STORM, said he should have won the Oscar for MICHAEL CLAYTON and was glad to float around space with him and Sandra Bullock in GRAVITY.  However, I have been disappointed in him lately from 2014's MONUMENTS MEN to 2015's TOMORROWLAND to the worst movie of 2016 HAIL, CAESAR, I began to wonder if he was "losing it".

I'm happy to report that MONEY MONSTER shows that he still has it.  Starring as Cable Money Show host Lee Gates, Clooney is the perfect embodiment of the "empty suit with a smile" on TV spouting clichés and loud attention grabbing snippets while really saying, essentially, nothing.  It is the perfect role for him.  The story centers around a disgruntled worker (UNBROKEN'S Jack O'Connell) who took Gates at his word and invested his entire life savings in one of his investment suggestions.  When that investment tanks, Gates gets taken hostage live on the air.  Aided by his intrepid producer (Julia Roberts), Gates needs to "get real" to get out of this situation.

Sounds like a good premise, right?  And it is and as performed by Clooney, Gates and Roberts (more on her later), this had the makings of an interesting hostage drama with a cautionary tale of our voyeuristic tendencies of watching tragedy unfold on live TV.  Unfortunately, MONEY MONSTER isn't that interested in that story.  It tacks on a conspiracy plot by the tanking company led by a smiling, well-coiffed CEO that has "nothing to hide" that just screams "I HAVE EVERYTHING TO HIDE".  As played by Dominic West, all this CEO was missing was tying the girl to the train tracks and twirling his mustache.

Professionally directed by Jodie Foster, I was excited for this movie and the scenes in the studios between Clooney and Roberts (reunited for the first time since OCEAN'S 11 and 12).  The scenes between these two had a spark in them that I haven't seen from Clooney in a long time - I credit Roberts (and Foster) for enabling Clooney to bring his A (or maybe his A-) game.  As far as Roberts is concerned, I think she is having a career renaissance (check out her work in last year's THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES).  It was fun to watch these two veterans chew the scenery with each other.  These two are surrounded by some fun characters in the TV studio, especially "that guy" character actor Lenny Venito as the lead cameraman and Christopher Dehnham as a beleaguered producer who is given all the "crap" jobs to do.  The interplay between them all are fun and it sets up an interesting world that I want to spend time in.  And when the gunman crashes the party, I was interested.

Unfortunately, where this movie doesn't succeed is when it decides to move away from the studio and it's interesting characters and focus on a generic Corporation with generic characters that is hiding a generic conspiracy.  And that's too bad,  for Director Foster and Writer Jamie Linden waste some really good talent - most notably the Police Captain played by Giancarlo Esposito and a corporate flunky played by the always slimy Dennis Boutsikaris who all but disappears from this film after the 1/3 portion.  They had the makings of a really good, really interesting film, but, instead turned it into a decent and watchable entertainment that shows us what true "MOVIE STARS" George Clooney and Julia Roberts still are.

6 1/2  (out of 10) stars, but I'll tack on 1/2 more stars for the re-emergence of Clooney and Roberts, so "officially" a 7 (out of 10) starred movie and you can take that to the Bank (of Marquis)

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