Combustible Celluloid
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With: 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
Written by: Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf, based on a story by Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf,
Directed by: Jodie Foster
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence
Running Time: 98
Date: 05/13/2016

Money Monster (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Stock Mess 'Monster'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jodie Foster's Money Monster, opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, is a "hostage situation" movie combined with a "media circus" movie, with a little bit of "something to say."

It recalls many other movies, including Ace in the Hole, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Phone Booth, and Inside Man (the latter of which Foster appeared in). But even compared to those and other titles, Money Monster still holds its own.

It never reaches greatness or profundity, but it's a well-built, entertaining Hollywood movie — in the best sense of the term.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, the shallow host of a slick, short-attention-span show about investing; he goes on accompanied by backup dancers and a sparkly top hat.

Julia Roberts plays his long-suffering director, Patty Fenn. Asked about journalistic practices on the show, she replies, "We don't do journalism at all on this show."

Neither Clooney nor Roberts — both old colleagues from the Ocean's Eleven series — are particularly challenged here, but they're comfortable, relying on their charm and simply being movie stars.

At the start of a Friday show, a man called Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell) shows up, brandishing a gun and an explosive-filled vest; Kyle forces Lee to wear the vest and then takes over the show.

It seems he lost $60,000 when a sure-fire stock, endorsed by Lee, took a huge dive thanks to a computer "glitch," and Kyle wants an explanation.

This is only Foster's fourth feature film since Little Man Tate in 1991, and it's tight and well-oiled. After her strange The Beaver in 2011, she went to work directing episodes of House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black for Netflix, and presumably sharpened her skills.

She creates a vivid TV studio setting, with multiple screens and sound feeds, and juggles it all handily; she also creates an effortless, believable "media circus" in a big city landscape, which is not at all easy to do (check the recent Batman v Superman for a bad example).

Best of all, Money Monster manages some actual surprises. What start out as typical scenes — a plea to the viewers, or a visit from the terrorist's girlfriend — take unexpected, diverting turns.

Going in, we know from movies like The Big Short that large financial institutions are corrupt and that they gamble our money away every day.

Rather than despair, however, Money Monster indulges in a fantasy in which the good guys are actually able to go after the bad guys. Just like in the days of the Great Depression, this is the Hollywood version of the problem, a satisfying story of hope.

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