Stars make ‘Money Monster’ popcorn entertainment

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Seems like we’ve seen this one before. Almost every TV procedural drama has staged a hostage crisis by a thug wronged by the system but eventually vindicated before being hauled way. A few years back, victims of the movies “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Network” played out their stories in front of a worldwide network audience. So, here we go again.

George Clooney stars as the star of a financial TV show who announces, “The name is Lee Gates, the show is ‘Money Monster,’ without risk, there is no reward!” Those who have seen Jim Cramer on CNBC will readily understand the concept, but Lee adds song and dance numbers to kick it up a notch, bam! Well, you get the idea.

Julia Roberts co-stars as Patty Fenn, the show’s producer. Although Patty is a true professional, she resents this flamboyantly arrogant TV analyst, who may be playing a little too loose with investment advice that affects other people’s money. You have a pretty good idea his carelessness and callousness will soon get him in trouble.

As seen in the trailer, trouble is a madman named Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell “Unbroken”), carrying a pistol and vest full of explosives. Kyle blames Gates for an investment that cost this working stiff his life savings. Kyle wants an explanation from Gates and the CEO of the company on why this solid venture lost so much, so fast.

Kyle declares, “I may be the guy with the gun but I’m not the criminal!” He hopes to expose Wall Street moguls for gambling with their investors’ money without consequences. Throughout the tense standoff being broadcast to millions on live TV, Lee and Patty gather their resources. Against the clock, they begin to unravel a conspiracy generated by high-tech software that drives today’s global market.

Director Jodie Foster sets up a solid premise, keeps the story moving and makes this familiar story more interesting than expected. This hostage drama is also a message movie about corporate greed and Wall Street corruption. Despite the topic being somewhat overdone, Clooney and Roberts do not disappointed their fans.

“Money Monster” does not pack the punch of last year’s “The Big Short” or ringing social impact of “Network” (1976). It works as a thrilling hostage story with curious twists. Then again, although the message has validity, it sometimes comes across as heavy-handed. If you look past that, the stars and director make this solid popcorn entertainment.

It’s noted that money used to be hard currency and now the financial industry controlling our economic system consists primarily of digital entries in electronic journals that continuously fly through global clearinghouses. What’s fascinating is such complexity is fronted by media clowns that make it sound so very easy, until it isn’t.

For scheduling reasons, Clooney and Roberts didn’t work together much in making this movie. Roberts shot all of her scenes with a green screen on the monitors her character is constantly watching. Jack O’Connell begins the movie as a deranged madman shouting that “it’s rigged, it’s all fixed!” Yet, he transforms into a sympathetic character. The wide TV audience is glued to the screen even more than the daily car chase.

“Money Monster” is 98 minutes and rated R for language, some sexuality and brief violence. There is so much that could have been done with this premise had it not been done before. Maybe it was our low expectations or interest in Clooney and Roberts that allowed us to enjoy this familiar tale more than we should.

We were sufficiently entertained but never really, “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” It’s possible that “greed” is why Wall Street works so well, but “corruption” is why it fails so completely. Too many “investors” place their faith in a single analyst; never understanding the Latin phrase, “caveat emptor (buyer beware). For this reason, Reel People offer this “can’t miss” tip of the day: “Buy low, sell high.”

 

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Ron & Leigh Martel