Money Monster, the latest directorial effort from Jodie Foster, is quite an entertaining ride. It’s not much more than that, but for the 90 minutes I was in the theater it kept me enthralled. I’ve seen quite a few movies lately that haven’t been exceedingly good or bad enough to remark upon, and it almost seems like any movie could, at this point, potentially be a good movie this year. I thought Money Monster looked like a real clunker from the confused marketing and that goofy title. The fact that it was directed by Jodie Foster and stars two of the most recognizable people in the world seemed like an unlucky coincidence. Clooney used his name and got something else produced, I thought to myself the first time I saw the trailer. But you know what? It’s really entertaining. Faint praise? Perhaps, but that’s good enough for me these days. The film begins in a way that did start me worrying for what was to come. TV showman and financial guru (in that order) Lee Gates (George Clooney) is bantering with his director Patty (Julia Roberts) in that heightened manner that only film characters really speak in. “You point the camera and shoot!” he says antagonistically as he makes his way to the stage. “It always sounds so simple, yet so moronic!” she quips back, in a limp delivery that had me wishing perhaps if she had worn that Mother’s Day wig this would have been a better movie. (It would appear, from the evidence of this past May, that the distressing nature of Roberts’ hair is directly proportional to the quality of the film the hair style is appearing in.) They antagonize each other, but you know deep down they care for each other (more on this to come). It’s Patty’s last day on the job, so things should go just fine. Things quickly become gripping when Lee is kidnapped on air by an irate gunman Kyle (Jack O’Connell) and is made to wear a bomb vest.
That’s about it for the plot. Revelations are made along the way, and Foster keeps things moving at a brisk action movie pace without ever resorting to cheap effects sequences. What’s most impressive about what she does here is showing a fully rounded film with at least two three dimensional characters and a gaggle of supporting players that never feel misused. Surely, if this can be 90 minutes, there is no reason X-Men needs to be two and a half hours. Money Monster also fills a significant void in our cinematic culture from recent years. That is, a total lack of any middle ground material for adults. I know I’m not an adult, guys, but I like adult movies. As much as I love something like Ex Machina or The Lobster, sometimes I want to see something that’s totally genre-serving and pulpy but not pandering to 12 year olds in the audience. There’s something really rare about going to a multiplex these days and seeing an R rated movie starring two of the world’s biggest movie stars that does not feature any explosions, car chases, or an insane body count.
I do need to touch on one – no, two – moments that I just found utterly goofy. They both come back-to-back in the third act, when Lee and Kyle leave the television studio. The first comes when Lee delivers an expository outburst directed at Patty – who, while not in the elevator, happens to catch the live feed of it in the lobby as she is being escorted away by an entire SWAT team, and seems moved to tears. The moment when Clooney finishes and Roberts clutches her purse and leaves, as if to say, “Okay, I’m ready now,” is truly delightful. But delight had better things in store for me, because the very next scene is one of the most ludicrous I have seen in film history. Lee and Kyle exit the building onto a busy section of the Financial District. Lee, by the way, is still wearing the bomb vest at this point. Dozens of pedestrians start swarming this guy with the bomb vest and this other guy with the detonator, shouting things at them, snapping photos, and Foster even goes far enough to show a couple of Comedy Black Women doing Lee’s signature TV guy dance. It doesn’t help that the police are screaming, “Stay away from the man with the bomb! Do not approach the man with the bomb!” No, this movie seems to exist in a world – nay, a New York – where people think a potential act of terrorism is something really wonderful and not at all harmful. This is a really strange misstep, as if Foster shot the scene on a lark but didn’t get any coverage for the actual scene. Maybe Clooney, that everliving prankster, destroyed all prints of the serious version of this sequence and forced Foster to go with this utterly inane alternative.
I can overlook any missteps in the third act – in a movie like this, sometimes a little delirium makes the whole thing better. If I’m splitting hairs, that’s all I can spot wrong with Money Monster. It works pretty perfectly in terms of what it sets out to do, and though I do not think that it’s as effective in its message as it thinks it is or wants to be, it’s just a summer popcorn flick. In terms of that, it’s significantly well made and heads and tails above a lot of other movies you could choose to see. it’s truly intelligent, thrilling, and at times very funny. I would say it was money well spent or some similar pun, but I only paid to see The Lobster.
* * * 1/2
Directed by Jodie Foster.
Written by Jamie Linden & Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf.
Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Denham, Emily Meade, and Lenny Venito.
Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality, and brief violence.