This dunderheaded hostage “thriller” wants to evoke Dog Day Afternoon by way of Network and The Big Short, but those excellent films would be offended by such a comparison; they crackle and pop with energy and anger, while Money Monster is about as angry and energetic as a Yorkshire Terrier on Johnny Depp’s jet.
George Clooney plays Lee Gates, a television stock market analyst in the modern hyper-caffeinated US cable style – i.e., crass. During the live taping of his show, a poor young generically Noo Yawk schlub – incredibly awkwardly played by Brit Jack O’Connell – takes over the set with a gun and a bomb, and Lee and his producer Patty (Julia Roberts) have to figure out how to stay alive until the situation can be defused. Of course, the gunman insists on them staying on the air. Cut to “typical Americans” in bars, workplaces etc watching it unfold – in real time! Gosh!
For those of us who spent the fifteenth of December 2014 glued to our television sets watching how a real hostage crisis goes down on live TV (originating in Martin Place in Sydney), the portrayal here is, naturally, completely artificial and borderline offensive. But everything in the movie is a total fantasy; it’s got a terrible, terrible problem with plausibility. Everyone looks like they’ve stepped out of a costume department onto a set – including the cops, the bystanders, and all those “real Americans” – but the story, and storytelling, is even worse. Time discrepancies, ludicrous character choices and inane dialogue all add up to an infuriating 98 minutes.
Along the way, Jodie Foster seems to give up on directing the film; it staggers and collapses, and the actors are left to wander vaguely, or simply sit down and cease to be. What happened to Dennis Boutsikaris’ character, Avery Goodloe? He must have wandered off to the catering table, and out of the film. Dominic West is wasted as the most generic Rich White Guy we’ve seen since the type became the go-to villain of the 2010s, Roberts is predictable, and Clooney is lumbered with having to deliver painfully unfunny wisecracks in the final act, which veers into comedy (probably realizing it wasn’t cutting it as drama; of course, the comedy tanks). All the cops stink. The only two who rise above the mess are Lenny Venito as Lenny (The Cameraman) – that’s how he’s credited, as though we needed reminding of his trade – and the exquisite Caitriona Balfe as an Evil Corporation’s Decent CCO. Told you it was a fantasy.