Money Monster (2016)
Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Greta Lee. Directed by Jodie Foster.
Lee Gates hosts one of those financial advice shows on a cable news station, with crazy graphics and general hamming it up, as much a show about a personality as investing. He’s so full of himself and so disdainful of people around him that nobody can stand him in real life, although he seems oblivious to this truth. His longtime director Patty Fenn has finally had enough, and although nobody knows it yet, today is her last day before she quits and heads to the rival network across the street. She grits her teeth through Gates’s ridiculous interactions because she’s through.
Kyle Budwell is a regular shmoe, just a guy who, on Gates’s advice, invested his modest inheritance in a company Gates said was a can’t-miss. He sneaks onto the Gates set and takes him hostage, live on the air, demanding that Gates explain how thousands of investors on his solid advice lost millions of dollars, and how Gates can live with this knowledge. Budwell straps explosives to Gates and shows the TV audience that he has one of those hand-held plunger detonators: if he lets go of the device, Gates and everyone in the building is going to be blown up.
Fenn continues to direct the show, sending her staffers on a search for people at the can’t-miss company who can explain the computer glitch that cost investors all this money. It’s a double layer of drama, with the hostage situation in the studio and reporters tracking down answers from the firm, Fenn playing QB in both games.
Money Monster is attempted commentary on the way American investors and companies treat each other, with a somewhat more interesting (and less direct) exploration of television news programs. Neither view is rewarding or insightful, although the high-school drama teacher in me was kind of intrigued by the relationship between director and performer, and how a good production team works to deliver a good product.
The film’s real strength is in the acting chops of Julia Roberts and George Clooney. Even in semi-insipid material like this, you can see an easy confidence in each actor’s approach. In fact, it all looks a little too easy for them both, leaving me with the impression that although they were very good in their roles, neither brought anything to the film that less talented actors could have brought. This isn’t a complaint, because given the choice between a ho-hum movie starring Roberts and Clooney and a ho-hum movie starring almost anyone else, I’ll happily take the former. They really do know what they’re doing, and boy are they pretty to look at.
Since there’s not much to say about the film, I’ll add two notes of mild interest. One of Fenn’s assistants is played by the daughter of Phylicia and Ahmad Rashad. And the actress who plays the Korean interpreter is Greta Lee, who was the very funny manicurist in the (also so-so) Tina Fey film Sisters. I like her.
Five-point Julia Roberts bump.