Money is the new sex at the movies. Actually, if we’re honest, maybe it was also the old sex. Whatever — in our overly consumerist society, money is on everyone’s mind and more filmmakers are discovering the excitement that a stock chart can generate.

This includes Jodie Foster, who seems to glide effortlessly between her stints as a filmmaker (admittedly few and far between) and her cast-iron status as one of Hollywood’s most enduring and iconic actresses. Unlike her last directorial/acting outing in 2011 with “The Beaver,” Foster stays put behind the camera for “Money Monster,” a tension-filled headline-grabber of a movie that flings dollar signs around like an electronics store on Black Friday. The talk is all about money: who has it, who doesn’t and how everything it’s involved in is rigged.

Though “Money Monster” takes on financial institutions, it’s a totally different ball game to last year’s “The Big Short,” another film that blabbed endlessly about finance and cash flow. While “The Big Short” revealed an earnest and sincere lust for money, Foster’s vehicle is more about rage and resignation — rage because the protagonist loses all his money on the stock market, resignation because deep down, he also knows he just can’t win.

Money Monster
Run Time 98 mins
Language English
Opens JUNE 10

“Money Monster” is messy, emotional and highly improbable. Some scenes may remind you a little of couples therapy, as the main cast is divided into two camps: those who do all the complaining and publicly air their hurt and damage, and those who pile on the hopeful advice. Kyle (Jack O’Connell) is in the former camp — a delivery guy who takes financial talk-show host Lee Gates (George Clooney) hostage and demands “an explanation” for having lost his life savings on a bad investment.

Lee is in the latter camp — an over-groomed, obnoxious finance guru who spews one-liners like “No risk, no reward!” with oily enthusiasm.

Armed with a gun, Kyle walks onto the Money Monster set and forces Lee to wear an explosive vest to which he holds the trigger. A month ago, Kyle lost $60,000 based on Lee’s stock tip, and he is now determined to expose what he believes was fraud. Lee, for his part, doesn’t even remember giving the tip (he makes so many!) but once his memory is forcibly jogged, he makes a gigantic effort to morph from cowering TV host to hostage negotiator-cum-credible financial expert.

True to type, and at Kyle’s demand, Lee insists on airing the whole thing live (his performance here recalls a similar TV journalist in the “Die Hard” series). The show’s director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), complies, though inwardly she’s both surprised by Lee’s sudden show of courage and annoyed by his perpetual hankering for the spotlight, even in such dire circumstances.

To appease Kyle, Patty tries to bring in Walt Camby (Dominic West), the CEO of the company whose stock points tanked and lost $800 million of shareholders’ money, including Kyle’s savings. Camby, however, disappears and leaves his personal assistant (and mistress) Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) to provide the explanations and excuses. In doing so, Lester unwittingly digs up a few unsavory facts about her lover/boss.

Unfortunately, “Money Monster” loses much of its cynicism and runs out of steam in the last 20 minutes. The plot takes a turn, Lee becomes an improbable father-confessor figure and Patty, the strongest character, fades into the background.

Foster does succeed in drawing some of the best performances we’ve seen in a while from the central quartet, especially Roberts, who clearly relishes her role. However, the film never quite captures the urgency of Kyle’s plight or addresses the issues of income inequality that are so clearly revealed in the Kyle-Lee relationship.

For all the show of big numbers and abundance of financial jargon, an obsession with money does, at least, come off as source of self-loathing and misery. It may be the new sexy in film, but it’s far from cool in the real world.

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