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Front Page - Friday, May 20, 2016

Save your money

The Critic's Corner movie review

David Laprad

“Money Monster” is an attempt by director Jodie Foster to make an entertaining, issue-driven movie about corruption in the American financial system. The film is moderately entertaining but merely states the obvious with regard to the issue it explores: things are really messed up.

“Money Monster” begins promisingly. George Clooney is financial guru Lee Gates, who has a cable show in which he intercuts ballsy commentary about the stock market with ludicrous video clips, sound effects, and dance numbers. (When I wrote that “Money Monster” begins promisingly, I was not referring to Clooney’s dance moves.) Julia Roberts is Patty Fenn, his director. Actor Jack O’Connell is Kyle Budwell, the poor schmuck who lost his life savings on an investment Gates recommended, and wants to know why.

I can sympathize with Budwell. I once watched an investment go from five figures to four in the blink of an eye, and in my ignorance of how the stock market works, have always wondered where the money went.

I would not, however, approve of Budwell’s method of getting answers. During a live broadcast of Gates’ show, he hijacks the set and holds Gates and the crew hostage. With a gun in one hand, a trigger for an explosive vest draped around Gates in the other, and millions of people watching, he demands Gates tell him what happened to his money.

The answer is hidden somewhere within IBIS, the company in which Budwell made his investment. Not long before the film begins, IBIS loses $800 million overnight, including Budwell’s 60K. The next day, the company’s CEO, Walt Camby, holds a press conference, during which he blames the massive loss of money on a glitch in their proprietary trading algorithm. Like Budwell’s money, he then disappears.

It’s a good set up. But to get to the denouement, Foster and her writers stretch the plausibility of the story to the breaking point. For starters, the SEC is nowhere to be seen until the end of the film. One would think they’d have a few questions for Camby about what really happened to the $800 million, but no. In another scene, IBIS’ head of communications promises to compensate Budwell if he lets Gates go. That was nice, but how is the company planning on coming up with the remaining $799,940,000 they need to make everyone else happy? Worse, to save her host, Fenn launches her own investigation into what happened, and does a preternatural job of connecting dots as far away as South Korea and South Africa – all while directing a live TV show in which everyone is a micro-second away from being blown up.

By the time Gates and Budwell are walking down a crowded New York street surrounded by enough onlookers and snipers to make the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade folks jealous, I had already mentally left the theater.

“Money Monster” is not a complete wash, though. While the film doesn’t have anything revelatory to say about the American financial system, Foster’s direction is technically slick. What’s more, she and the writers, along with Clooney and O’Connell, do a good job of developing a dynamic and believable relationship between Gates and Budwell. Gates begins the film full of cocky swagger, but when the police pipe a video feed of Budwell’s pregnant girlfriend into the television studio, and she berates Budwell for losing all of the money, Gates begins to sympathize with this man who lost what little he had. I also liked O’Connell’s performance. He comes across as a sincere everyman who gets angry and then gets in over his head.

I’m not faulting the filmmakers for choosing entertainment over social commentary. A mass market film about a serious issue can get people thinking and talking more than a heady drama like “The Big Short.” But I am saying I wish Foster and company had put together a more credible story. By relying on so many improbable story beats, they undercut the film’s entertainment value.

Perhaps that’s why Clooney tried to put on a good show during his dance numbers. But no. Seriously. No.

Two stars out of four. Rated R for language, sexuality, and violence.

Reader’s tip: The worst line of dialogue I heard in a film this week was said by actor Kevin Bacon, who plays the father of an autistic child possessed by an evil spirit in “The Darkness.” After his son starts a blaze in the house, Bacon says, “I don’t mind the counting, the forts in the living room, and the toys on the floor. But I draw the line at him starting fires!” Don’t be fooled by the decent trailer for “The Darkness.” It’s one of the blandest and most poorly written and acted horror films in recent memory. To get your scary movie fix, hold out for “The Conjuring 2,” out June 10.

David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.