You don't see a lot of snake oil salesmen on street corners these days—rapid-fire voices booming for blocks as they hock their cure-all ointments. Now everything's online.
But there's always room for a slippery salesman. And maybe a century ago, Lee Gates would've been one of the best snake oil schillers around. Instead he sells stocks. Correction: He recommends stocks—not from a street corner, but from a wildly cheesy national cable show called Money Monster, filled with eye-popping graphs and dancing girls. "Buy!" he says, and his viewers buy. "Sell!" he says, and they sell. Have any of his fans gotten rich following him? Who knows! But one thing's for certain: Lee sure has.
He's not always right, of course: He's been bullish on Ibis Clear Capital stock for months now, and when it took a quirky plunge and lost $800 million overnight, he was as embarrassed as anyone. Ibis bigwigs say it was simply a software glitch. The company's assets are automatically invested and re-invested by quick-fire computers, and obviously something mangled the matrix. It's a shame. But, hey, stocks sometimes lose money. That's the way the financial game works. And Lee promises that Ibis will be back in the black before he can blast out his next humorous sound effect.
But for Kyle Budwell, stocks aren't so funny. He invested $60,000 in Ibis, all the money he had in the world, and now it's worth next to nothing. His mother just died. His girlfriend's pregnant. He's making 14 bucks an hour as a delivery man, and in New York City, that's barely enough to rent a slice of sidewalk to stand on.
Kyle doesn't want Lee's patented patter or clever film clips anymore. He wants answers. He wants satisfaction. He wants to make Lee Gates squirm. And what better way to rattle this snake oil swami than with a gun and a bomb?
It's an understatement to say it's a terrible, unexpected turn for the live show to take. But as Kyle demands the cameras stay on, more and more viewers tune in to see the drama play out. So whether the bomb goes off or no, one thing's for sure: The ratings are going to be explosive.
Let's just say this from the get-go: There's no excuse for taking a cable personality hostage (no matter how smarmy said personality is) and threating to blow up a lot of reasonably innocent bystanders. But Kyle's core motive—to figure out how his $60,000 was transformed overnight into just enough money to buy a large coffee—is understandable. And as he asks some tough questions (again, while waving a gun in the air), it occurs to Lee and his loyal producer, Patty, that these questions are indeed worth asking. Kyle becomes a catalyst for one of the most rapid financial investigations known to modern media. And before the credits roll, a different sort of evildoer is rooted out.
A back-and-forth gag about an erectile dysfunction cure leads to a producer having noisy sex with a colleague. (We see them in a sexual pose, partially clothed.) The camera spies the silhouette of a naked couple in a shower. There are intimations of extramarital affairs. A girl gets pregnant. A guy gets lambasted for crying during sex (and his manhood is insulted).
Lee flirts with some of the women on his set. Young ladies in skimpy clothing lounge about. Lee's dancers also dress provocatively.
Kyle invades the Money Monster stage with a gun and demands that Lee put on an explosive vest. People are shot, one fatally. (The bloody wound is seen, and blood seeps onto the floor.) Someone gets punched in the mouth. A flying tackles saves two people from sniper fire. A couple of young men play a violent video game.
Crude or Profane Language
About 80 f-words, nearly 30 s-words and a well-diversified portfolio's worth of other profanities, including "c--ks--ker," "p---y," "a--," "b--ch," "b--tard" and "h---." God's name is misused about 30 times—more than 20 of them with "d--n." Jesus' name is abused at least a dozen times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Someone appears to use cocaine. A guy smokes a bong. The "water" on Lee's desk clearly isn't.
Other Negative Elements
Lee says he's been divorced three times and has a kid, but he doesn't know exactly how old the child is. "I send a check," he says. Financial bigwigs lie and mislead.
Money Monster plays on our collective financial insecurity—the unease that many feel over stocks, bonds and the bewildering complexity of how 21st-century money is made. Through its improbable setup, the movie pokes at a whole assortment of things it deems to be societal ills: the freewheeling market that sometimes (according to the movie) creates worldwide turmoil just to turn a profit; the financial "experts" who cozy up to corporations in sycophantic relationships; the growing chasm between the rich and poor; and our own jaded culture that treats even life-or-death situations as entertaining diversions, tragedies to be tweeted and memed and soon forgotten.
In so doing, Money Monster deputizes its quirky hero, honoring its frustrated perpetrator/victim. Specifically, the guy with the gun.
During the hostage situation, Patty begins to "direct" Kyle. She asks him to stand in a certain spot so his face isn't in so much shadow. She gives him a microphone so the folks at home can hear him better. She tries to turn him into a sympathetic figure—as indeed the movie itself does. And even though I understand that the movie isn't actually trying to get us to barge into cable shows if our retirement portfolios dip, its satirical tack is still troubling.
I live in Colorado Springs, Colo., where a man recently walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic and started shooting. He killed three people and injured several others. He says he wanted to save babies. He instead inflicted death and tragedy and fear. As staunchly pro-life as I am, I'd be horrified if a film tried to turn him into a hero.
Money Monster is a message movie—one with moments of both levity and insight, but one that can also feel pretty preachy and, in its choice of its anti-protagonist, really, really wrong.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
George Clooney as Lee Gates; Julia Roberts as Patty Fenn; Jack O'Connell as Kyle Budwell; Dominic West as Walt Camby; Caitriona Balfe as Diane Lester; Giancarlo Esposito as Captain Powell; Christopher Denham as Ron Sprecher; Lenny Venito as Lenny 'The Cameraman'
Jodie Foster ( The Beaver)
May 13, 2016
September 6, 2016