Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Guest Post: Money Monster (2016)

Money Monster Is Cobbled Together With Parts From Better Films

B Jonas Schwartz

Expectations are high when the credits roll with such superstar names as George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jodie Foster, but Money Monster smashes very easy targets, and though it hits the bullseye often, it uses a cannon as a weapon.

Tabloid news, the rich eating the poor, and the poor reaching a breaking point, are all timely, particularly in this election season, and though Money Monster moves at a breezy pace with a self-aware, fun performance by Clooney, the movie itself lacks wit, subtlety or surprises. Director Foster brings none of the quirkiness and ingenuity that she brought to Home For The Holidays.

Flamboyant finance TV host Lee Gates (Clooney) and his producer Patty (Roberts) perform just another show, combining stock tips with flashy graphics and entertaining hip-hop dance breaks. The diva Gates treats his crew like slaves, and beneath his swagger drips insecurities.

He panics when he has no one to join for dinner on a Friday night, and feels personally offended that a CEO friend Walt Camby skipped out on an interview on the show. Camby's company was big news after a computer glitch the day before caused the company to lose millions in minutes, and his appearance on the show would have been a coup for Gates.

The program is interrupted by an angry gun man (Jack O'Connell) who holds the crew hostage and straps a bomb to Gates' chest.

The terrorist lost his life savings the day before on Camby's company, and blames both the CEO and the fast food financial analyst Gates for his troubles. Because the crime is broadcast live, the trauma becomes a national event with people treating the hostage situation like just another TV show.

The script by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore & Jim Kouf contains funny lines, but the writers are unable to drive the story forward. 

The script follows similar plot points from Mad City, with Dustin Hoffman, and John Q, starring Denzel Washington, two films that were unimpressive on their own merits, and borrows themes that were building blocks for masterpieces by Jean Renoir, Luis Buñuel and Oliver Stone.

The motivations are obvious, the twists blatant, and the final half hour defies logic. The script's biggest issue is turning a man who shoved a loaded gun in someone's face and put everyone's life in jeopardy into a misunderstood hero by the final act.

Though his character was legitimately pissed, his actions were far from noble. The script also has issues turning the cops into anything but trigger happy stereotypes. Obviously the writers were thinking of Ferguson et al, but turning the force into Keystone Kops was a cop-out.

Foster's direction is oddly paced. She captures the chaos of live television, but focuses too much attention on nameless characters with whom the audience never identifies. Also curious is that Foster chose to have a strong female character caught in an adulterous relationship with her married boss. It seems out of character for Foster to undercut a female protagonist.

Clooney adds fun as the buffoon TV star. Bombastic and histrionic, his Gates adds energy to the film. His frequent co-star Roberts always has great chemistry with him. Their dynamics and screwball comedy dialogue are an asset.  Outlander star Caitriona Balfe brings elegance and determination as the corporate mouthpiece who turns detective.  Though O'Connor's role is histrionic and clumsily written, he brings pathos and panic as the everyman who chooses violence so as to be heard.

The script of Money Monster could have been a Lifetime Movie in the early 90's starring Heather Locklear and Luke Perry with no alterations.  What compelled Jodie Foster, George Clooney and Julia Roberts to carry on with this cardboard thriller is the only mystery worth investigating.

Jonas Schwartz is a voting member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics, and the West Coast Critic for TheaterMania. Check out his “Jonas at the Movies” reviews at Maryland Nightlife.

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