Money Monster could have been a great conspiracy thriller if it weren’t so busy being such a bad conspiracy thriller.
It has so many elements working for it — an A-list cast, a snappy pace, assured direction by Jodie Foster — but all of that is rendered useless by its painfully generic and predictable script that sucks the tension out of damn near every sequence.
The film cold opens with financial TV star Lee Gates (George Clooney channeling a more sarcastic, friendly Jim Cramer) and his long-time producer Patty (Julia Roberts) shooting the shit as they prepare for the day’s episode of, you guessed it, Money Monster.
Shortly after going live on air, a crazed man with a gun named Kyle (Jack O’Connell), who we soon learn is an angry investor/viewer, takes over the studio and demands the cameras be left on. Kyle doesn’t want any money — he just wants an explanation as to where all his cash went when a surefire “stock of the millennium” tanked and lost $800 million in a single afternoon.
With the help of his hostage TV host and Patty-behind-the-scenes, Kyle begins to unravel a conspiracy even bigger than he could’ve imagined, all while the world watches in real-time on live television.
Completely negating the basic absurdity of its premise, the real issue with Money Monster is that its entire trajectory becomes crystal clear to the audience way too quickly. By the 20 minute mark, it’s already aggravatingly obvious who’s to blame, and for the rest of the movie you’re just left watching these characters very slowly put two and two together as you quietly seethe and/or scream at the screen. For a film to rely on tension and suspense, you can’t give away too much of the surprise reveal in act one.
It’s not that anything is explicitly spelled out, but you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to pick up what Money Monster’s most basic constructs are putting down. If a film opens with a sequence talking about company X and CEO Y, is it hard to believe that these elements will come back into play? No, it’s definitely not, but nobody told the writers (yes, plural) of Money Monster.
Tonally, the film plays like an (even more) dumbed down version of The Big Short by way of something like The Boondocks Saints. It’s engineered for people who don’t understand the stock market, but damn it, they’re going to be mad about it anyway! I’m all for “sticking it to the man,” but the film’s indictment of corporate greed doesn’t go deep enough; it’s shallow, surface-level fare that feels like it was written by people who don’t quite understand what they’re talking about.
Money Monster isn’t smart enough to actually say anything new about the state of global markets or the national economy, yet the whole time you can literally feel it straining to be relevant, culminating in the film’s inclusion of a literal Vine compilation. It’s certainly a film with an “agenda,” whether or not it’s actually effective is another story (spoiler: it’s not).
All that being said, Clooney and Roberts are both very good here, as is Jack O’Connell, who you may remember as the very miscast lead in Angelina Jolie’s very not-good Unbroken, and Jodie Foster’s direction is as sharp as the script will allow. Money Monster reminded me a lot of Triple 9 in that they’re both entirely-watchable-but-not-very-good movies that make the most of a script that is totally DOA. For me, both films just barely pass Uproxx’s Mike Ryan’s proposed $15 rule.
Money Monster is the kind of movie that will soon be playing on an endless loop on TNT, so feel free to check it out when it hits cable, if you’re curious. You can always just change the channel.
Money Monster opens May 13.