‘Money Monster’ an entertaining Hollywood fantasy with a message

Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster” is a hostage situation movie and a media circus movie, and it even has a little bit to say.

It recalls “Ace in the Hole,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network,” “Phone Booth” and “Inside Man,” in which Foster appeared. Still, it holds its own.

It never reaches greatness or profundity, but it’s a well-built, entertaining Hollywood movie — in the best sense of the term.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, the shallow host of a slick, short-attention-span TV show about investing; he goes on accompanied by backup dancers and a sparkly top hat.

Julia Roberts plays his long-suffering director. Asked about journalistic practices on the show, she replies, “We don’t do journalism at all on this show.”

Neither Clooney nor Roberts — old colleagues from the “Ocean’s Eleven” series — are particularly challenged here, but they’re comfortable, relying on their charm and simply being movie stars.

On the program’s set one day, a man (Jack O’Connell) bursts in, brandishing a gun and an explosive-filled vest; he forces Lee to wear the vest and then takes over the show.

He lost $60,000 when a sure-fire stock endorsed by Lee took a huge dive thanks to a computer glitch, and he wants an explanation.

“Money Monster,” Foster’s fourth feature film since “Little Man Tate” in 1991, is tight and well-oiled. After her strange “The Beaver” in 2011, she went to work directing episodes of “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” for Netflix, and presumably sharpened her skills.

She orchestrates a vivid TV studio setting, with multiple screens and sound feeds, and juggles everything handily. She also creates an effortless, believable media circus in a big city landscape, which isn’t easy to do. (Check the recent “Batman v Superman” for a bad example.)

Best of all, “Money Monster” manages actual surprises. It starts with typical scenes — a plea to the viewers, or a visit from the terrorist’s girlfriend — then takes unexpected, diverting turns.

Going in, we know from movies like “The Big Short” that large financial institutions are corrupt, gambling our money away every day.

Yet instead of moving toward despair, “Money Monster” indulges in a fantasy in which the good guys actually go after the bad guys. Just like in the days of the Great Depression, this is the Hollywood version of the problem, a satisfying story of hope.

REVIEW
Money Monster
Three stars
Starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Caitriona Balfe
Written by: Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf
Directed by: Jodie Foster
Rated R
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

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