“Money Monster” (2016) is Amateur Hour



“Money Monster” (2016) is in trouble from the very beginning.  It opens with George Clooney sitting on a bathroom stall while Julia Roberts talks to him from the other side of the door.  When, only a short time later, Clooney abandons whatever dignity he had left by dancing with cheerleaders while dressing in a magician costume, it becomes pretty clear that the film is never going to achieve even respectability despite all the big names associated with the project.

In the film, Clooney plays Lee Gates, host of a daily financial program on cable TV called “Money Monster.”  In the show, Gates waltzes around the set, spouting off stock recommendations with sensational segments like “Stock of the Millennium.”  Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) is the long-time director of the show who provides support in the background by cuing cheesy sound effects.  Fenn, a director with whom Gates has formed a strong working relationship for the first time, is leaving the show to join a rival network, a side story with promise that never achieves relevance.

The news swamping the world of business is IBIS Clear Capital, whose stock unexpectedly cratered the previous day due to what the company has called a “glitch in the trading algorithm,” costing investors an $800 million loss.  Gates had recommended IBIS Clear Capital as a can’t-miss stock just a month earlier.

Among the investors who suffered a loss is Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), who invested the entire $60,000 he inherited from his deceased mother into IBIS stock.  Having lost all of his savings, he sneaks into Money Monster strapped to a bomb and takes Gates hostage during a show in which IBIS’ CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) agreed to appear.  Budwell claims he doesn’t want money; he just wants to know what really happened because he doesn’t buy the algorithm explanation. Camby, though, has unexpectedly left for a business trip to Geneva, leaving IBIS’ chief communications officer Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) to appear in his place.

Thereafter, the film devolves into an unsuspenseful melodrama and a pedestrian crime investigation nonthriller.

In fact, apart from the cinematography and the editing, everything about this movie is at a level of a college film project.

Take the storytelling. When Budwell says he simply wants to find out what happened at IBIS, the movie isn’t kidding.  Because that’s all there is to the plot, the film introduces random characters in Russia and Korea who make fleeting appearances for the sole purpose of contriving a conspiracy, then places Lester and Camby in a romantic relationship so Lester can conveniently uncover the conspiracy.  This is amateur hour.

Then there’s the Lee Gates character.  Anyone familiar with cable business network will see the resemblance between Gates and Jim Cramer, the host of the show “Mad Money” on the cable network CNBC.  George Clooney plays Gates far more outlandishly than the real-life Cramer, but if he was attempting to satirize the world of cable TV, this movie wasn’t the right vehicle.  There’s probably a place for a movie that provides social commentary on the journalistic responsibilities of cable TV personalities with crazy antic who tell people what to do with their retirement savings, but to find it in this movie is to give it too much credit; the script is far too shallow for that.

Julia Roberts, lacking any charm or presence, is completely wasted in this movie, but she wasn’t helped much by the direction of Jodie Foster.  Foster has been in the acting business since childhood, but all that experience hasn’t paid off much as a director since she hasn’t learned the craft of infusing scenes with energy and emotions. In a somewhat remarkable achievement, the movie contains scenes after scenes of a hostage situation with a bomb and a police standoff that are devoid of any suspense. Clooney, who has shown skill as a director in movies like “Ides of March” (2011),  must have been itching to get behind the camera.

“Money Monster” is a lesson in how hard filmmaking truly is.  It’s not enough to have a premise; there must be a story.  It’s not enough to deliver a message; there must be a script with depth.  It’s not enough to cast huge stars; they must be given the right roles.

With names like George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jodie Foster involved, the inevitable question about “Money Monster” is how the movie could fail so badly, but the right question to be asking is how these talents so often succeed.  After all, it’s their usual success that makes this movie such an anomaly.


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