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Taking stock of Money Monster'

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Financial drama lacks energy and urgency

When determining the relative quality of a film, a good rule of thumb is to take a look at the pedigree. If there's a lot of interesting talent involved, then chances are strong that the film itself will be interesting.

'Money Monster' is a film with an impressive pedigree. We'll start with Jodie Foster, who hasn't directed a feature film since 2011's 'The Beaver' and hasn't done any film work at all since appearing in 2013's 'Elysium.' She's back in the director's chair.

We've also got George Clooney and Julia Roberts leading the cast. In this day and age, there are probably only a handful of actors and actresses who can bear the label 'movie star' legitimately; Clooney and Roberts are two of them.

Throw in some big and scary (and timely) finance-related subject matter and you've got what seems like a winning formula the operative word being 'seems.'

Clooney plays Lee Gates, a goofy Jim Cramer analogue with an infotainment finance TV show called 'Money Monster.' The bells and whistles beeps and buzzes; gaudy graphics; repurposed film footage are all guided by the show's director Patty (Roberts). She's uptight, he's freewheeling. She sticks to the script, he likes to improvise.

You get the picture.

Things take an unfortunate turn when a man named Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell, 'Unbroken') shows up on the set with a gun and a bomb vest. He takes everyone hostage, expressing his rage at Gates, whose advice on a particular stock offering led Budwell to invest and lose every dime he had.

The company an outfit called IBIS lost $800 million to an apparent computer glitch. But shady behavior by a number of people up to and including IBIS CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West, 'Genius') leads Gates to suspect that there might be something more to it. He and Patty, connected via his earpiece, do their best to keep Kyle calm and keep Lee alive all while millions of people around the world are tuned in to watch.

Maybe the oddest thing about 'Money Monster' is how flat it feels. There's no substitute for the charismatic wattage that stars like these bring to the proceedings, yet the film somehow manages to dampen that power. The whole point of casting George Clooney and Julia Roberts is that they're GEORGE CLOONEY and JULIA ROBERTS, but this movie doesn't really care.

It's a bit surprising that Foster, having built a brilliant career on that side of the camera, wouldn't have a better sense of how to use the attributes of her leads effectively. Make no mistake the direction here isn't bad, not at all. It just isn't particularly exciting. It has a workmanlike feel that gives the whole movie a bit of an old-fashioned vibe not the sort of thing you expect from a director with a famous name.

The cast never manages to do its part to elevate the proceedings. Clooney looks like he's really trying to turn on the charm, tossing off his sly grins and his flirty banter, but the usual appealing effortlessness is gone; it feels like work. And when things turn serious, wellhe's been better. Roberts is a bit better (though it's possible that having just recently seen her awful turn in 'Mother's Day' might be clouding my judgment); at the very least, her no-nonsense performance never feels like she's running a marathon.

It should be noted, however, that Budwell is actually pretty good here. He has been saddled with a meathead accent and a thin backstory, but he gives a surprisingly compelling performance; a bit over the top at points, but on the whole, solid. Some decent work from the ensemble as well West, Caitriona Balfe (TV's 'Outlander'), Lenny Venito ('St. Vincent') and Christopher Denham ('Bad Country') are all effective.

However, any movie with two above-the-title talents in the cast is going to sink or swim on the work of those two talents. And while neither Clooney nor Roberts gives what you'd consider a bad performance, the duo fails to ascend much beyond mediocrity. They have their moments they're too talented not to but those moments are fewer and farther between than you might expect.

'Money Monster' might be out of place among the big blockbusters of the season, but it would be just as out of place albeit for different reasons amidst the prestige pictures found at year's end. Not flashy enough for summer, not substantive enough for the fall it just goes to show that pedigree isn't everything.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 May 2016 16:04

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