Entertainment·MOVIE REVIEW

Jodie Foster's Money Monster adds up to Wall Street bunkum

Money Monster, says CBC's Eli Glasner, is a Wall Street ripoff that promises insider knowledge and accountability but delivers a tepid drama and tone-deaf storytelling.

A flaccid financial farce, the real crooks here are the filmmakers

George Clooney appears in a scene from Money Monster. The film is about as convincing as his dance moves. (Atsushi Nishijima/TriStar Pictures/Sony Pictures/Associated Press)

It all seemed so promising.

From director Jodie Foster, Money Monster is a tense new thriller set in the world of flash trading and high finance. George Clooney is the Jim Cramer-esque TV host, Julia Roberts the buzzing voice in his ear. Rising star Jack O'Connell is the young man ready to blow it all to kingdom come.

But take a closer look at the credits (from the screenwriters responsible for Rush Hour and Dear John!) and warning bells begin to sound.  

This is not a Network-style rallying cry for those wronged by Wall Street, or an angry educational romp in the style of The Big Short.  

Money Monster is a flaccid farce masquerading as an issue film. The tepid hostage drama turns out to be a manipulative whodunit that lets the real bad guys off the hook.

Jack O'Connell, left, and George Clooney appear in a scene from Money Monster. To truly see what O'Connell is capable of, check out the harrowing father and son prison drama Starred Up. (Atsushi Nishijima/TriStar Pictures- Sony Pictures/Associated Press)

The film opens with another day of the Lee Gates finance show named Money Monster, a 50/50 blend of shtick and stock tips. Played by Clooney mugging for all he's worth, Gates tap dances through a live broadcast with the help of his cynical producer Patty (Roberts).

If you're looking for the screwball pleasures of Broadcast News, look elsewhere: Money Monster has little more to offer than glib weariness and Clooney trying to dampen his natural charisma to portray a heel (and failing).

The first of many awkward tone shifts occur when working stiff Kyle (O'Connell) manages to walk right onto the set with a gun and a suicide vest. Distraught after losing his life savings over a stock tip, Kyle decides to hold Lee hostage on network TV until the CEO of the company in question (Ibis Clear Capital) explains how a trading glitch wiped out millions.

Money Monster is just the latest in a string of films and shows responding to a growing resentment of Wall Street. But where the trailers promise some sense of accountability, or at least a righteous venting of frustration, all director Jodie Foster delivers is a tone-deaf drama.
Julia Roberts appears in a scene from Money Monster, opening in theatres on May 13. (Atsushi Nishijima/TriStar Pictures-Sony Pictures/Associated Press)

As far as direction, Money Monsters mixes the flat, uninspired feel of a tired TV procedural with an out-of-place comedic tone that cuts the tension in all the wrong places. This is a film that, in a moment of crisis, sees Patty call a young producer only to find him testing out a new virility drug with a young product placement associate. Ha? Sigh.

As millions tune in to watch the live hostage drama, Lee reluctantly morphs into a cable news Columbo, digging for the truth behind the "glitch" that erased millions. How will we ever dig up more information? Luckily, Patty conveniently has the number of the hackers from last week's episode, who can magically deliver terabytes of data at a moment's notice.They live in Reykjavik and I think their names were Plot and Device.

Dominic West and Caitriona Balfe appear in a scene from Money Monster. (Atsushi Nishijima/TriStar Pictures- Sony Pictures/Associated Press)

Even when it comes to Clooney's character, Money Monster doesn't have the courage of its convictions. Lee starts as a callous jerk, but inevitably begins to show empathy while posing tough questions to the greedy Ibis CEO (Dominic West in a somnolent performance.)

 If Money Monsters was a stock, it would be in the red long before its ludicrous final act.

Money Monster starts with promise. Take Lee's opening monologue on the mind-boggling world of flash trading. "You don't have a clue," he sneers at us. But if Money Monsters was a stock, it would be in the red long before its ludicrous final act.  

From a communications officer who miraculously finds moral virtue to a version of live broadcasting about as believable as an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, Money Monster's real injustice is how it fails to deliver the goods. In the end, all we're left with is Clooney back in his comfort zone and the blame conveniently placed on a smirking villain.  

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 stars

What to watch instead: Margin Call, a pulse-pounding office drama set on the eve of the 2008 market collapse.

About the Author

Eli Glasner

Entertainment reporter and film critic

Eli Glasner is a national entertainment reporter and film critic for CBC News. Each Friday he reviews films on CBC News Network as well as appearing on CBC radio programs coast to coast. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee, Ont. to the Oscars red carpet.

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