By: Kevin Jordan
I miss Jon Stewart.
One of my favorite moments in journalism happened back in 2009 when Jon Stewart took CNBC to task over their irresponsible financial reporting. In short, Stewart accused them of being nothing more than PR lapdogs for big corporations, charged with convincing people to invest their money in those same corporations regardless as to if it was a good investment. The focus became centered on CNBC’s Jim Cramer, host of a stock-tip show called Mad Money (a show which you would be forgiven for thinking was a reality show featuring a cocaine-fueled lunatic rambling about return on investment behind the stage of a travelling carnival). Near the end of the week-plus of Stewart grilling CNBC, Cramer went on The Daily Show and Stewart destroyed him in arguably the best interview in the history of television. If you have not seen it, just Google “Jon Stewart CNBC Jim Cramer” and watch the three or four Daily Show segments comprising the saga. And, you should watch them for two reasons: 1) to remind yourself never to bet your money based on the rantings of some idiot with a buzzer hosting a show owned by a major multinational corporation and (2) the entertainment value is arguably higher than what you will get from watching Money Monster.
(I’ll try to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum, but don’t bet on it.)
Money Monster is essentially the worst case scenario of the Jon Stewart-CNBC-Jim Cramer saga, but if Stewart had strapped a bomb to Cramer’s chest and demanded Cramer explain how AIG could need more than $100 billion dollars of tax payer money to stay afloat. The film literally satirizes Mad Money, replacing Cramer with Lee Gates (George Clooney) and changing the name of the show to Money Monster. Gates doles out barely researched stock tips in between really awkward dancing to kick off the show and speaking with his production director, Patty (Julia Roberts), while taking a crap. No, that’s not a euphemism. …But then maybe it is.
One day, Gates is getting ready to interview the CEO, Walt Camby (Dominic West), of an investment company that managed to lose $800 million due to a supposed computer glitch when his show is interrupted by Kyle (Jack O’Connell), a blue-collar New Yorker who saw his $60 thousand life savings investment reduced to a fraction of that as part of the bigger loss. You see, Kyle forgot rule number one (above) and decided that the best course of action was to take hostage a financial shows’ stage and crew, strap a bomb to Gates’ chest, and shoot at monitors. But, Kyle’s not there to get his money back (which Gates offers out of his own pocket); he’s there to hold Gates and Camby accountable and to explain how they managed to lose the money. If you’re thinking you’ve seen this movie before it’s because you are thinking of The Negotiator, which has the same premise – hostage taker conducts investigation to uncover the truth relating to embezzlement/fraud, hoping to solve the mystery before a police sniper or S.W.A.T. team takes him out. Samuel L. Jackson just made a better hostage taker than O’Connell.
Right away, we know something is amiss because, even before the hostage situation, Gates is informed that nobody knows where Camby is and that his Chief Communications Officer, Diane (Caitriona Balfe), will be filling in for the interview. Once Kyle starts demanding answers, it doesn’t take long for Patty to morph into Woodward and Bernstein and start demanding answers as if she was the Secretary of Defense and not the director of some bullshit faux-financial show on cable TV. While Patty is playing investigative journalist, Kyle is screaming about how the system is rigged, that it’s all one big lie and the audience is left wondering why the movie can’t quite decide what the plot is supposed to be. But, Hollywood isn’t interested in the audience thinking the entire system is rigged (that would include Hollywood) so the movie switches to exposing a shady CEO and assuring the audience that their money really is safe. 2008 is ancient history, we promise.
Aside from a plot that shifts gears in the middle of the movie, it’s actually a pretty entertaining film. There are a couple of fun twists on the standard hostage-crisis resolution scenes (cops wanting to breach, bringing in the hostage taker’s significant other), as well as some hilarity with Gates’ first attempt to resolve the crisis. They even manage to sneak in some dick jokes involving erectile disfunction cream that don’t come off as juvenile (unfortunately, the film forgets about it after the second punchline, missing out on some potential fun in the latter half of the film). I enjoyed the actors as well, though Clooney wasn’t able to quite sell me on his character being as big a douchebag as Jim Cramer. Or even half as big, for that matter. In limited time, Balfe was solid, though her accent couldn’t decide if it was English, Scottish, or Irish throughout the film. Of course, I’ll blame Jodie Foster (director) for this because we know from watching Elysium that Foster doesn’t know the difference between a German and a French accent, let alone those of Britain and Ireland. Also, poor Giancarlo Esposito was given next to nothing to do as the police chief, relegated to occasionally barking commands and yelling at people. I actually think he would have made a better Walt Camby considering his turn as Gus Fring, but I don’t think Foster watched Breaking Bad.
I was able to take along two guests to the screening (rather than the usual one) and one of them did not like the movie. He said it was because he couldn’t accept the idea that they would keep filming live the whole time (Kyle actually demands it) because they could just as easily have faked it (Kyle says he’d know if they faked it because he has a phone, but he never looks at the phone after making the statement). My other guest and I disagreed – we both think they would because we’re cynical and jaded, we remember the O.J. Simpson coverage, and $1 billion in free media coverage just went to the flaming car wreck whose name rhymes with Bonald Frump solely because he was good for ratings. If I was picking one thing that was tough to buy, it was the nonsensical explanation of financial software algorithms (stupidly referred to as “algos” throughout the movie, whose developers were equally-as-stupidly referred to as “quants” – quantitative analysts). Of course, I’m a dork who likes math and I know that roughly 1% of the rest of the audience will catch it as well, so I was fine letting it go – the movie explanation works well enough.
A lot of critics are going to compare this movie with The Big Short, but I don’t think that’s a good comparison. While I haven’t seen The Big Short, I know that it wasn’t designed as a thriller featuring bombs and bullets and bad accents (British and New Yawk). What I do know is that I came away mostly satisfied considering the movie wants us to feel good for a hostage taker and sleazy financial show host.
What I’m really trying to say is that I miss Jon Stewart.
Rating: Ask for a couple of dollars back. You can trust me – I don’t have a buzzer.