In Money Monster, a fed up, blue-collar New Yorker hijacks a cable news show and holds its host hostage live on air, demanding to know what happened to the life savings he just lost in the stock market or else he will blow up the whole building. George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, who most resembles Jim Cramer from "Mad Money," a real show on CNBC about investments and stock tips. Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) directs fake "Money Monster" from the booth, while Jodie Foster directs the actual film.
It's a provocative idea, that a TV network might be overtaken by a madman and allowed to run rampant on the air for several hours, and it led me down a rabbit hole of wondering, "Has anything like this ever actually happened before?" The short answer seems to be that it hasn't, at least not to such a grandiose scale. Sneaking into a television studio armed with explosives and wandering onto the set during an apparently live telecast to take over the operation wholly without resistance is just not a thing that studios abide in post-9/11 America. Far more plausible is a phenomenon called "broadcast signal intrusion," where a person hijacks local or national stations remotely in order to project some sort of insane agenda or religious ideology for a scant few minutes, until they too are promptly shut down. For example, who can forget the hero known as "Captain Midnight," who in 1986 took over HBO for several minutes to protest the $12.95 a month subscription services. Imagine the passion it takes to pull off such a stunt, and for such an arbitrary cause!
The few instances of genuine on-air antics are either harmless flashers (the streaker at the 1974 Oscars) or they are brief, violent moments (the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald and on-air suicides.) Never do we have a handsome kid named Kyle with a fake Brooklyn accent (British actor Jack O'Connell of Unbroken) take over an entire network in a Carhartt jacket with a cartoon bomb on a Tuesday afternoon.
But of course, Money Monster is just a movie, free to creative license, and the implausibility is not the problem—there's actually a lot to admire in the picture. First of all, we have a reliable chemistry between Roberts and Clooney, in which Clooney plays the spoiled but charming TV star, and Roberts is literally his unsung voice of reason via a sound chip in his ear. Money Monster begins with a lot of speed and stays that way throughout. Before the hijacking, the cast and crew zip around the set with that frenetic energy characteristic of successful, money-driven people. It's a different rhythm from Montana, and a fun place to visit. There are some surprisingly funny moments too, like when the hijacker's wife shows up and behaves not at all the way you might expect.
Finally, the film offers some intelligent observations about the psychology of greed and how those with power have designed a system that shelters them far away from ever having to answer to their victims. It makes a common enemy out of flashy television stars and Wall Street corruption while always managing to toe the line of controversy. Is Kyle for Trump or Bernie? He could go either way.
In the end, Money Monster devolves into a silly third act and never does it fully engage with the real politics of the situation. Stacked up against recent, sharper films like The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street, the fluffiness is just a tad too much to forgive.
Money Monster continues at the Carmike 12.