Money Monster


Clooney busts a move.

Clooney busts a move.

(2016) Thriller (Tri-Star) George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito, Chris Bauer, Dennis Boutsikaris, Emily Meade, Condola Rashad, Aaron Yoo, Carsey Walker Jr., Grant Rosenmeyer, Jim Warden, Joseph D. Reitman, Olivia Luccardi. Directed by Jodie Foster

The American Experience

There are a lot of ways to get a person under your thumb. Economically is usually the best method and involves the least bloodshed. However, it must be said that people can only be pushed so far before bloodshed becomes inevitable.

Lee Gates (Clooney) is a financial expert who has a popular financial advice program on a cable network. It is somewhat wild and crazy like Lee himself; Lee has a tendency, much to the exasperation of his producer Patty Fenn (Roberts), to go off the reservation. So when a flustered young delivery man, carrying a couple of packages wanders onto the set, Lee is sure it’s his crew playing a practical joke on him while Patty thinks that it’s one of Lee’s improvisations.

It’s neither. It’s Kyle Budwell (O’Connell), a working class schmoe who was crazy enough to follow Lee’s investment advice – except that advice turned out to be tragically wrong. IBIS, the software company that Kyle invested in, had seen $800 million of its assets vanish overnight and its charismatic CEO Walt Camby (West) is nowhere to be seen. He was supposed to be a guest on Lee’s program but instead they were sending Diane Lester (Balfe), a publicity flack (whom Camby is  apparently sleeping with).

Kyle has loaded guns which he demonstrates by firing into the ceiling, getting everyone’s attention. He slaps on a bomb vest that he hid in one of the packages onto Lee and proceeds to demand to talk to the absent CEO. Patty manages to clear the studio, but it seems only a matter of time before Kyle loses complete control of the situation. What neither Patty nor Lee count on is that they too would be swept up in Kyle’s saga and want to find out the answers for their own peace of mind as well.

Given the somewhat negative view most people have regarding the shenanigans on Wall Street over the past few years, this movie plays into those feelings pretty much perfectly – almost to the point of cliché. The villain of this piece is too easily spotted and becomes almost laughable. We don’t get a real sense of depth to that person; it’s just greed, greed, greed and a sense that people deserve to get their life savings defrauded from them because they don’t have the kind of fortune that the villain has. It’s a bit of a cop-out in my opinion.

That said, this is the kind of movie that is going to give you a good idea of why people are angry at Wall Street. The Lee Gates character – who is clearly modeled on Jim Cramer and the show clearly Mad Money on steroids – is a bit buffoonish and certainly a paean to poor investment strategies which is something Cramer is sometimes accused of peddling in real life. Clooney gives the character a bit more depth than we might have otherwise. Would the film have worked better if Lee was the kind of insensitive douchebag that he appears to be at the beginning of the movie? I don’t think so, but at least one critic accused the filmmakers of “star saving” Clooney (i.e. making him appear nicer than he appears to be in order to maintain his likability) which is not something Clooney has indulged in over the years.

Roberts is seen far less frequently onscreen than I would like, but continues to be every inch the star she’s been for the past *mumble, mumble* years – has it really been that long? She has deepened into more of a solid actress over the past decade, not needing to rely quite as much on the wattage of her amazing smile and the glow of her incandescent personality that over the years has made her the ultimate girl next door. Here, she’s a working stiff trying to labor for the unappreciative and has been a little bit beaten down by her star’s lack of empathy. Still, she prides herself on her professionalism and when the rubber hits the road, responds with calm and decisive leadership. This is one of those roles that is slightly subversive without being obvious about it; perhaps Foster, certainly one of the strongest women in Hollywood, has something to do with it as well. To my mind, Patty is the real hero of this piece but not many will get that.

O’Connell is best known for his role in Unbroken but to my mind finally really shows what he’s capable of going back to small but memorable roles in films like Harry Brown. His performance as Kyle shows a man beaten down to the bone by a system that chews up and spits out people like Kyle. With nothing else to lose, he demands answers from those who aren’t willing to give them and this leads him to an act of desperation – and yes, stupidity – that becomes the crux of the film’s emotional center.

Foster has been the kind of director who makes magic even when the scripts she’s given to work with don’t necessarily have a lot of it in it. There’s a good deal that’s way too familiar here but Foster works with it well and gives us a credible film despite the predictability of the plot. There’s some sly satire here about America’s penchant for greed and making money without wanting to put in the work. It is counter to our Puritan heritage in which hard work is valued and indeed, rewarded. In this modern era, we seem to be more inclined to value cutting corners – and rewarding those who do inordinately. And maybe that’s at the center of why Main Street is so pissed off at Wall Street. Perhaps some of the captains of industry need to be reminded of those ethics that made this country great in the first place.

REASONS TO GO: Foster is a masterful director. Clooney and Roberts are always eye-catching. Dials in to the anger that a lot of people are feeling about Wall Street.
REASONS TO STAY: Pretty cliché storyline. The villain of the piece is a little too obvious.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of profanity, some sexuality and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fourth time Clooney and Roberts have appeared in a film together.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/4/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Big Short
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Conjuring 2

The Other Guys


The Other Guys

Ferrell, Coogan and Wahlberg finally figure out they should have read the script before signing to do the movie.

(Columbia) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Steve Coogan, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Derek Jeter, Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr., Ray Stevenson, Bobby Cannavale, Natalie Zea, Brett Gelman, Anne Heche, Ice-T (voice). Directed by Adam McKay

There are heroes, men who put themselves on the line for justice and to protect those that they serve. Then again there are the other guys.

Christopher Danson (Johnson) and P.K. Highsmith (Jackson) are the former; Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) are the latter. Danson and Highsmith chase through the city after bad guys, taking them down in a blaze of glory; Gamble and Hoitz do the paperwork.

For Gamble, that’s perfectly acceptable. He lives to do paperwork and began his career in Forensic Accounting, the guys who chase the paper trail. Hoitz is a different matter. He was exiled to this team after accidentally shooting Derek Jeter during the 2003 World Series, leading to a Yankee loss. New Yorkers still hate him for that.

When Danson and Highsmith are taken out of the equation, some other team has to step in to fill the void. The initial favorites are Martin (Riggle) and Fosse (Wayans), a pair of less-than-sweet-natured rivals who delight in putting down Gamble and Hoitz. Hoitz sees this as their chance to escape the doldrums of the station – Gamble refuses to leave the station to do field work until Hoitz puts a gun to his head, quite literally.

Gamble thinks he’s found the case to break the team out; a series of building permit violations linked to a smarmy Wall Street financier named Ershon (Coogan). However, their attempted arrest of the financier brings out an Australian special forces turned Security detail chief (Stevenson) who sets off Hoitz’ cop spider sense.

The two become embroiled in a financial scheme that threatens to bring down New York City; the trouble is, nobody believes these perpetual screw-ups. So it is up to them to prove their case and save the day.

Adam McKay and Will Ferrell have combined on two of Ferrell’s best movies – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Perhaps this one needed a subtitle like The Other Guys: The Station Pop of Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz or some such. That might have brought needed luck to this movie.

Quite frankly, this is one of those movies that set my teeth on edge. It’s the type of humor that thinks it’s funny to re-do the same non-sequitir over and over again; the more you repeat it, the funnier it is. In point of fact, the more you repeat it, the more obnoxious it is. For example, Michael Keaton’s long-suffering Captain Mauch has a tendency to recite lines from TLC songs and then deny that he’s doing it. It wasn’t funny the first time guys…by the fifth or sixth time they do it, I’m ready to take a chainsaw to the midsection of the writers.

There are some funny moments to be sure – Ferrell and Wahlberg are far too talented to make this irredeemable. I do like the bits where Ferrell keeps on referring to his wife Sheila (Mendes) as “plain.” Everyone who’s ever seen the woman knows she’s anything but, so that’s a non-sequitir that actually works. There’s also a scene involving Highsmith and Danson – you’ll know which one it is because it takes place at the conclusion of a jewelry robbery – that comes out of left field and actually had me roaring with laughter (ghoulish as it may have been). More stuff like this and I’d have this movie up there with The Hangover.

Unfortunately, most of the best moments are in the trailer. For reasons I cannot fathom, critics really like this movie, comparing it favorably to Kevin Smith’s similarly-themed Cop Out from earlier this year. I haven’t seen that one yet so I can’t comment on the validity of the comparisons, but I think it’s just that there has been such a dearth of genuinely good comedies this summer that critics are seizing on what is patently a mediocre movie at best and latching onto it like a life preserver during the Perfect Storm.

In a weird twist, the end credits run over a series of graphics illustrating economic facts about CEOs, ponzi schemes, Bernie Madoff and 401Ks, which looks like a very different movie – and one I probably would have liked better. It leads into an extra scene at the film’s conclusion, which shows a valiant attempt by Wahlberg to tell a joke. Outtakes can be fun after all.

I suppose it’s possible that I’m a mutant that just doesn’t get this movie, but it left me completely flat and that wasn’t the case in the movies I mentioned earlier, which I thought were some of the funniest movies of the past ten years. Surrealism isn’t necessarily comedy, a truism that even Salvador Dali understood. Apparently, McKay, Ferrell and Wahlberg don’t.

REASONS TO GO: There are some funny moments.

REASONS TO STAY: Most of the funny moments are in the trailer. The movie tends to ram its jokes down your throat over and over again.  

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of action movie violence, sexual situations and salty language so younger kids are out.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Michael Keaton character Gene Mauch was named for the manager of the California Angels back in the 1980s; Ferrell is apparently a huge Angels fan.

HOME OR THEATER: If you must see it, see it at home.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: The Oh in Ohio