After the economic collapse of 2008, Jon Stewart and his “Daily Show” staffers focused their outrage on Jim Cramer, a former hedge-fund manager whose popular financial news show, “Mad Money,” had been consistently upbeat on the very banks that tanked the economy. After days of Stewart’s attacks, Cramer came on the show. Their confrontation, in which Cramer came off looking like a journalist who failed his duties when America needed him most — basically, the Judith Miller of the financial press — drew a whopping 2.3 million viewers.
Among them, surely, were the three screenwriters of “Money Monster.” They’ve come up with a clever idea: What if it wasn’t Stewart who targeted Cramer but a furious investor with a gun and a bomb? Put them both on live television, add a bit of global intrigue — not to mention Jodie Foster as director — and you’ve got the makings of a topical popcorn thriller.
And check out the cast. George Clooney plays the Cramer-esque Lee Gates, whose garish show, “Money Monster,” peddles financial analysis in the guise of trashy entertainment (Clooney’s hip-hop dance routines are inspired). Julia Roberts plays his loyal producer, Patty Fenn, who stays in the studio even when a guy named Kyle (Jack O’Connell) storms onto the set waving a gun. Kyle has two questions: How did Ibis Clear Capital lose $800 million of its investors’ money, and why didn’t Gates see it coming?
The answers are highly unsatisfying. “Money Monster” tries to channel populist anger but doesn’t have an iota of substance. The dialogue sounds like a collection of trending hashtags — rigged system, government bailout, complicit media — but none of it addresses any real issue. The story centers on high-frequency trading, a real and fairly frightening technological development, but the twists feel highly unsophisticated. (One bit of crucial evidence is obtained after a five-second Google search.) It’s no spoiler to say that the villain is a shady CEO played by Dominic West. He’s strung up in effigy by this pandering film so quickly that you almost feel sorry for him.
“Money Monster” is one of those C-grade thrillers that depends on implausible behavior, unlikely coincidences and slow-moving cops to get by. It’s definitely not worth the investment.