Lawrence Toppman

‘Monster’ is rarely on the money

If you can believe the following three things, I recommend “Money Monster” as a drama worth your attention, for I know you’ll balk at nothing. Ready?

1) A successful, intelligent TV director who looks like Julia Roberts spends every Friday night alone in Manhattan because she can’t get a date.

2) A guy with a pregnant wife and a $14-per-hour job risks his entire $60,000 inheritance on a stock tip from a “financial adviser” who dances to rap music and wears funny costumes on television.

3) A corporate villain who absconds with $800 million loses track of a cell phone that contains damning evidence available to anyone who picks it up, because it has no security setting.

Wait, here’s a bonus: 4) Computer hackers who had no idea they’d be needed take 10 minutes to track a guy’s movements over the last four years, complete with video from a place no one would be likely to take any.

And now that I think of it ... but I don’t want to think of it.

Director Jodie Foster and writers Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf turn a potentially interesting financial thriller into a Bernie Sanders screed about evil megacompanies. That’s not to say megacompanies aren’t evil, but this simplistic drama doesn’t make that case. (See “The Big Short” instead, if you like the genre. It deserved its screenplay Oscar.)

Jack O’Connell plays Kyle Budwell, who dropped all his dough when the company run by Walt Camby (Dominic West) tanked. Camby has disappeared, so Budwell shows up on the set of “Money Monster” with a handgun, explosives he straps to host Lee Gates (George Clooney), and an ultimatum: Unless he gets a satisfying explanation for the collapse, he’s going to blow everybody higher than prices in a bull market.

Lee’s director (Roberts) supplies advice and searches for answers, while a SWAT team decides what to do. Camby’s public relations person (Caitriona Balfe), who realizes far more slowly than we that her boss stinks, decides to help.

O’Connell conveys the height of Budwell’s frustration and the depths of his stupidity. But Budwell’s rants get old, and he spends long periods of time staring glumly at the walls of Gates’ set and doing nothing. Roberts adds emotional warmth, but the calmly suave Clooney never seems worried about sporting a Semtex vest. (We know he is worried, because his hair gets mussed by a full inch.)

I couldn’t tell whether the film was intended to be a comedy; as it became more and more improbable, both predictable and ludicrous at once, I heard audience members chortle again and again. Were they laughing with “Money Monster” or at it? I fell into group two after 15 minutes and never changed sides.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Money Monster’

Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Caitriona Balfe, Dominic West.

Director: Jodie Foster.

Length: 98 minutes.

Rating: R (language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence).

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