The old aphorism “they don’t make them like this anymore” rings true for Money Monster. Jodie Foster’s first directorial effort since 2011’s odd The Beaver is an old-fashioned, star-driven, socially conscious, R-rated Hollywood flick—the dominant film type prior to the revolution of realistic CGI. It feels narratively akin to ’70s social commentary without any of the stylish flourishes that keep those films relevant.
It is simplest to describe Money Monster as the new George Clooney/Julia Roberts movie. As if that duo is not enough, the marvelous Giancarlo Esposito leads the police detail. Clooney stars as Lee Gates, a handsome, Jim Kramer-ish, Wall Street pundit on FNN (you get one guess at the acronym). From Lee’s interactions with his director, Patty (Julia Roberts), and assistant, Bree (Condola Rashad, daughter of the now-divorced Phylicia and Ahmad Rashad), we learn he is a smooth talker who might not be as well liked or well connected as he thinks he is; some ancient financial guy has canceled on him seven times.
One fateful Friday, a young investor named Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell, who could stand in for Anton Yelchin in future Star Trek adventures) crashes the daily taping with a gun, a homemade bomb vest and a grudge about an investment gone wrong. It seems one of the stocks trumpeted by Lee recently went south to the tune of $800 million due to an unpredictable computer glitch. Now Kyle is out of money but flush with questions; if Lee does not get Kyle answers, the host, Patty and their crew are going to blow up on live television.
Sound thrilling? It is, kind of. Eventually, Dominic West arrives to play his typical villain (McNulty seems long gone by now), the billionaire who underhandedly lost all his poor investors’ money, and our intrepid band of financial-television sleuths have to follow the money trail before time runs out.
Money Monster moves smoothest when Clooney is mugging for one camera in front of another and Roberts is charmingly attempting to rein him in. These sequences have a His Girl Friday as updated by Aaron Sorkin vibe. The money mystery dominates the last two acts and is compelling enough thanks to a refreshingly brisk runtime that never allows the anti-Wall Street screed to harsh the Clooney/Roberts buzz.
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