Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Money Monster

“Now You See Me 2” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

We live in some crazy financial times. Between Enron, Bernie Madoff, and the housing bubble, it’s hard for regular, hard-working investors to know where to put their money. Seeking a straight answer—as well as, hopefully, a shortcut to wealth and financial security--those investors turn to financial gurus like Lee Gates (George Clooney), the Jim Cramer-esque host of the gimmicky financial advice show, “Money Monster,” from which this movie derives its title.

We learn right up front that Gates is a narcissist and a showboat. He brags that he hasn’t had dinner alone since the 1990s. He gets a kick out of himself, but his longtime director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) is less thrilled. She’s long since gotten over his playful shenanigans and is tired of acting like a babysitter and telling him to subdue his more self-destructive tendencies.

The TV show “Money Monster” airs live, and all is well until a mysterious man shows up with a package. That man is Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell), a working class parcel truck driver who lost an inheritance by following Lee’s advice. Budwell forces Gates to wear a vest wired with explosives, and he brandishes a dead man’s trigger for the vest in one hand and a gun in the other. Now the show really starts cooking.

We’re also introduced, through some quick clips, to characters in South Africa and Korea. It’s a bit strange when these places pop up in the beginning, but they do make sense. How they relate to the story, and how the movie gets us to them, is an interesting journey in and of itself.

The story of “Money Monster” does what any great story should do: It unfolds. We start off with a typical hostage situation. A man demands answers on why a company that Gates said to invest in lost all of his money. He doesn’t want to hear from that company’s propaganda mouthpiece Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) either. He wants to hear from the man himself whom he holds responsible, along with Gates: the company’s CEO, Walt Camby (Dominic West).

Through a series of twists and turns, we get to Korea, and to South Africa, and to the big reveal at the end. Even better, the movies plays off of tropes that may have been the end of any other movie—or at least, been the catalyst for the end. Not once, but twice, “Money Monster” is brilliant in taking our expectations and turning them on their heads. It’s this kind of writing that makes movies like this so exciting. You think you know what’s coming and expect the movie to zig, but instead, it zags. And boy, does it zag in some big ways.

Jodie Foster directs, and does a remarkable job at keeping the tension high and the story moving. There isn’t a single wasted moment in “Money Monster”—this movie is as lean as they come. Clooney and Roberts are great in their roles as frantic hostages trying to remain calm and stay alive. Jack O’Connell, who starred in the lead of the excellent Angelina Jolie-helmed “Unbroken,” here once again turns in an Earth-shattering performance that also shows that you can’t keep regular folk down. Not when they have this much heart—and a conscience. They can only be pushed so far for so long. They will eventually rise up and fight against the oppression, lies, deceit, and manipulation. Walt Camby may not be a real person, but there are people out there like him. To them, “Money Monster” has a clear message: You’re on notice. Buy it on Amazon: Money Monster [Blu-ray].

Also Out This Week

Now You See Me 2

While by no means a great movie, I enjoyed the first “Now You See Me” from 2013 for the fun little lark it was. I enjoyed taking the journey with “The Four Horsemen”—Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher). What I liked most was seeing the magic tricks, then later on getting a peek behind the curtain to see how they were done. Some of what happened was a bit of a stretch (okay, a lot of a stretch), but for the most part, nothing made me feel too incredulous.

The same cannot be said for “Now You See Me 2.” The “Four Horsemen” are back, this time with Lizzy Caplan as Lula, taking over for Fisher as the female member. Now following the lead of FBI Agent/Mole Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), the plan is to come out of hiding and expose the crooked dealings of technology magnate Walt Mabry (a scruffy Daniel Radcliffe). The crew wind up in China, so Rhodes recruits the assistance of famed de-bunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to help track them down.

Whereas the first movie had fun with revealing the how to of some impossible looking magic, the magic in “Now You See Me 2” is sorely lacking. Sure, it’s there, but it’s mostly at the end, and even then there is a set up in which we only get to see three out of the four horsemen perform tricks, as if they ran out of ideas so they didn’t give McKinney one. Then, we only get two out of three reveals to show how the tricks were done. How did Atlas manage to sink through a solid sidewalk after falling backwards? He had the best trick but no reveal. That’s a fail.

And no—Mark Ruffalo getting out of handcuffs or having a tiresomely contrived fist fight using some conveniently placed mirrors to battle his combatants does not count as magic. Neither does one scene in which the group pointlessly pass a playing card to one another. It shows off some good hand work, but isn’t magic. Also, that scene overstays its welcome for way too long. It could have been suspenseful except for the fact that I kept asking myself why the hell they were doing it. It left way too much to chance.

That’s the next problem with “Now You See Me 2”: Too much is very happenchance. A lot of the plans rely on a certain person acting a certain way in order for the Horsemen to pull off what they want to do. There are no contingency plans if anything does go awry, and therefore the Horsemen don’t really know what’s going to happen and are not in control. I can suspend my disbelief for a little bit of luck, but this movie asks for way more than I can give.

Finally, there’s Bradley. I think what the makers of this movie did with this character is what ticked me off the most. It negates everything we learn about him in the first movie. This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, as long as the negating is making sense and doesn’t leave us scratching our heads asking a dozen or so “Then why?...” questions. This movie raises those questions and provides no satisfying response. The direction they go with him makes no sense. But really, that’s fitting, since this entire movie makes no sense. Skip it.

More New Releases: “The Darkness,” decent chiller starring Kevin Bacon as the head of a family who returns from a trip to the Grand Canyon with artifacts that conjure up demons; “Night of the Living Deb,” about a walk of shame that turns into a fight for survival amidst a zombie apocalypse; “The Meddler,” story of a successful single woman coping with the constant advice of her recently widowed mother, starring Rose Byrne, Susan Sarandon, and J.K. Simmons; “All the Way,” starring Bryan Cranston as President Lyndon Johnson as he seeks to pass Civil Rights legislation following President Kennedy’s death, so that, as LBJ himself put it at the time, “I’ll have those n*ggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years;” “Nina,” starring Zoe Saldana as the late jazz musician and classical pianist Nina Simone; and “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” excellent ten episode series from the FX Channel, about the mid-1990s murder trial of O.J. Simpson, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., John Travolta, Courtney B. Vance, and Sarah Paulson.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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