Wall Street titans are fast becoming Hollywood's new Nazis or Russian mafia, an easily sketched, surefire movie villain. Same shifty eyes, nicer suits.
Money Monster applies this budding cliche to an oddly comical thriller that eventually grows too preposterous for anyone's good. It's a crudely populist movie designed to rouse the rabble, to loudly remind us greed isn't good. Viewers seeking another The Big Short will leave shortchanged.
In the early going, director Jodie Foster displays a previously untapped flair for tension, setting up a fairly real-time hostage situation on live television. George Clooney stars as financial TV huckster Lee Gates, dishing out stock tips with vulgar dance routines and sound effects. Lee is a peacock ready for plucking, a role Clooney plays well.
Lee's director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts, also solid) is patient with her star and his stunts, their professional chemistry noted by a safe word meaning shut up. Foster establishes the rushed precision of preparing to go on the air, contrasting the faster chaos to follow.
Minutes into the show, a ranting gunman (Jack O'Connell) appears on the set, demanding to be heard, forcing Lee to don a bomb vest. With his thumb on the detonator, the man later identified as Kyle Budwell claims a stock tip Lee offered cost his life savings. And that might cost Lee his life.
Money Monster proceeds for a while as an efficient nailbiter, pitting Kyle's rage against Lee's attempt to maintain a cool veneer, with Patty in his earpiece. Then the strangeness comes, an inappropriate humor with characters doing or saying things that logically should get someone, everyone killed. The corporate conspiracy angle creeps in, and an improbable alliance heads outside the studio to impossibility.
Thanks to her solid cast, Foster maintains an entertaining pace through increasingly dubious circumstances. One example is a scene when Kyle's pregnant girlfriend (Emily Meade) is called in to help negotiate his surrender and things go awry. Standard police procedure wouldn't let that happen, but a filmmaker whose priority is crowd pleasing does. Money Monster is always fun, in a face-palm sort of way.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.