The most surprising thing about Money Monster is the director: Jodie Foster, making only her fourth feature film in a quarter-century and, omitting 2011's The Beaver (which had its released nuked by star Mel Gibson's image problems despite having good reviews), her first in 21 years. The surprise is compounded by the subject matter and brisk handling its tale requires; nothing she'd done before indicates a taste for such fare.
George Clooney stars as Lee Gate's a Jim Cramer-esque host of a cable TV financial show called Money Monster patterned after Cramer's Mad Money. Schlocky, with sound effects, video clips and even backup dancers, Clooney dishes out stock tips and bromides. However, one hot pick he'd pushed, an outfit called IBIS had experienced what was being called a glitch where its high-frequency trading algorithm supposedly had a problem causing the company's stock to plunge $800 million instantly, severely damaging investors.
One such investor is Kyle (Jack O'Connell), a poor sap who put his meager inheritance into the stock only to be wiped out. Wanting an explanation as to how such a "glitch" could happen, he passes himself off as delivery man and makes his way onto the set where he produces a gun and an explosive vest which he has the hostage Clooney don on live TV.
As the police lock the building down, the show's director Patty (Julia Roberts) tries to track down the MIA CEO of IBIS (Dominic West) in order to appease Kyle. Assisted by IBIS's suspicious communications officer (Caitriona Balfe), the race is on to figure out just how so much money can disappear and no one seems to really care since the ultra-wealthy are still rich and the shlubs like Kyle are invisible to the Masters of the Universe.
Despite some provocative themes - rich vs. poor, connected vs. serfs, rigged vs fair markets - Money Monster doesn't take the path down Occupy Wall Street too far, opting for a swiftly-paced thriller with corporate shenanigans plot on the side. Foster's tempo in the beginning is too brisk as they race onto the set with implausible banter, but once Kyle arrives with his delivery of the plot, things calm down and the pace digs in and the tension ratchets up. When all is revealed, it all seems a bit far-fetched, yet not that unique for a movie. Some valid targets about voyeuristic audiences and how they react to watching life-and-death situations could've had more teeth, but as with the financial games aspects, I don't think they wanted to bite too hard, settling for entertainment over incitement.
Clooney is good enough, though I never really bought his show's shtick. Roberts is good at being tense and drab. O'Connell has a weak hand dealt as a stereotypical lower-class New Yawker and looking at his bio, I see my nagging suspicion as to why he seemed cliched is confirmed: He's another English actor playing an American because we've apparently stopped making actors in NYC. Pffft.
Glossily shot by Matthew Libatique (Iron Man, Straight Outta Compton, The Fountain, Josie and the Pussycats!), Foster's foray into popcorn-level drama is ultimately as insignificant as the DJIA going down 3 points, but there are worse ways to spend an afternoon on the couch watching it.
Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.