Dateworthy – “Money Monster”

In a summer movie season packed with superhero movies, sci-fi spectaculars and raunchy comedies, it’s refreshing to find a movie for adults that respects viewers’ intelligence and is actually about something. This weekend’s big new movie, “Money Monster,” attempts to fill that bill with the dynamic-duo star combo of George Clooney and Julia Roberts, but doesn’t quite hit a home run.
Clooney plays Lee Gates, the host of a TV show called “Money Monster” in which he uses outrageous costumes and nonstop silly gimmicks to dispense advice on what stocks to invest in or avoid. Clearly modeled on longtime CNBC analyst Jim Cramer, Gates is the kind of self-absorbed guy who makes flashy announcements without really considering the consequences, while Roberts plays his harried longtime director, Patty Fenn.

It seems like just another typical show taping day until a blue-collar deliveryman named Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) sneaks onto the set with a couple of large boxes, whips out a gun and proceeds to force Gates to strap on a laced with explosives. Budwell’s hand is on the detonator, so if he gets shot or attacked and his thumb slips off, everyone in sight will die.

Budwell demands that this all plays out on live national television, as he demands answers from Gates about how a high-tech company Gates recommended and Budwell invested in could have tanked so badly that it lost $800 million for investors overnight. Realizing that this could only have happened under human error rather than computerized algorithms, Gates finds himself stalling for time to stay alive long enough to solve the mystery and confront the schemers who cleaned the company out.

Meanwhile, Fenn has to figure out how to keep her news crew safe, and later the people on the streets of New York when the quest for answers spills outside. Combining the frantic search with a string of darkly funny jokes and plot twists, director Jodie Foster handles the various plot strands and strong performances deftly.

Clooney is strong throughout, alternating between his onscreen bravado and a surprisingly vulnerable fear that he is going to die. Roberts is steely as Fenn, but while her performance is solid, it’s the kind of role any number of actresses could have played, and might make viewers long for the day when her energy lit up the screen in just about anything she appeared in.
O’Connell largely plays two modes – furious and crazy – and handles both well enough, but his character is more of a stereotype of the little man hurt by the system. But his shrill and often annoying character is just one small part of a bigger problem with this movie: None of the characters are really likable, so it’s hard to care too much what happens to any of them.

And that unlikeability and shrill tone also might cause problems for some viewers on a moral level, as “Money Monster” features a profuse amount of foul language. Whether enraged or speaking casually, as a noun, adverb, adjective and beyond, the “F” word, “GD” and Jesus’ name are laced into the tense proceedings so often that it becomes an annoying distraction and detracts greatly from the parts that are intelligent, funny and exciting. There is also a brief, mostly clothed but graphically thrusting casual sex scene between two supporting characters.

Overall, “Money Monster” offers some interesting insights in the world of finance and has both exciting and funny moments. But discerning viewers will have to think twice to decide whether to see a movie that wallows in foul language as much as it does financial jargon. If you can tune out the language, you might find a good time, making it Dateworthy if your ears don’t burn upon hearing a lot of swearing.