In 2011, Jodie Foster directed The Beaver. While any story that exclusively features Mel Gibson and a talking beaver hand puppet must inarguably be considered one of the greatest stories ever told, the oddity and undermining of that film was that it was about Mel Gibson and a talking beaver hand puppet. While not wanting for technical proficiencies and competence, Foster opts for a very conventional style of movie making. The real oddness of The Beaver is that, viewed through her lens, there is very little odd about Gibson and a talking beaver.
The point here is that her new movie, Money Monster, her first directorial effort since The Beaver, suffers from several of the same problems; the pedestrian quality of its storytelling and the baggage that an A-list cast bring to this type of material.
In Money Monster, George Clooney plays cable television money guru Lee Gates. On his nightly broadcast ‘Money Monster,’ Gates hams his way through a tacky half-hour of gimmicky graphics, props, smart-ass asides, and unnecessary dancing. On night, midway through his show, a delivery man named Kyle (Jack O’Connor) makes his way onto the set, takes Gates hostage, and orders him to wear a vest armed with explosives. Based on one of Gates’ stock tips, Kyle invested his $60,000 life savings in IBIS, a company that was wiped out on the market shortly afterwards. Kyle demands answers as to how Gates’ unassailable tip could have failed so poorly, and will blow everyone up unless he gets them.
As Gates’ director, Patty (Julia Roberts), scrambles her team madly to find out what went wrong with IBIS, a string of deep corruption is revealed.
While the premise of Money Monster is interesting enough, almost exciting, it plays out in completely predictable melange of siege-situation and investigative clichés. Nothing in the movie surprises, from the Stendhal Syndrome between Kyle and Gates, to the revelations involving corporate corruption. The movie is a parable about corporate greed, and as in most parables, the characters are purely demonstrative: they function less as three-dimensional people than as moral harbingers.
Several extremely wealthy actors enact this parable, and regrettably, it makes the message feel rather trite. While one should separate the performer from the performance, the nature of high-profile celebrity makes this inherently difficult. So, if on one hand the movie acts sympathetic toward the beleaguered proletariat (i.e. Kyle, O’Connor’s character), it also seems too easy coming from Clooney and Roberts. Admittedly, it isn’t their fault. Clooney, in his insufferable way, is actually pretty great, but the result is still a major baggage, which might be less of a problem if this particular message was explored more expansively than it is.
Money Monster isn’t short on entertainment value, but it adheres too rigidly to tried-and-true plot conventions to prove more than temporarily diverting. Only Clooney’s performance distinguishes itself, while Roberts is typically perfunctory as his control-room earpiece. Foster is a good director who would do well to take more risks on her choices of material –she can afford to, after all.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10