Review: Sedate ‘Dumb Money’ falls short of expectations

Pete Davidson and Paul Dano in Dumb Money (Black Bear Pictures)

Sometimes expectations can get in the way of an otherwise enjoyable experience.

I’m afraid I fell into that trap with my viewing of “Dumb Money,” the latest film by “I, Tonya” and “Cruella” director Craig Gillespie.

Don’t get me wrong, “Dumb Money” is a solid movie from stem to stern. The film tells the triumphant tale of how thousands of small-capital investors joined forces to stick it to “the man” by investing in GameStop, the video-game retailer, during the Covid-19 pandemic at the suggestion of a low-level financial analyst and YouTube content creator Keith Gill (Paul Dano) amidst a stock-shorting effort by high-roller investors.

Known as Roaring Kitty online, Gill sinks his life’s savings into GameStop when he sees the price sinking, but uses his YouTube channel to tout the stock in his regular steaming updates. Several hedge fund investment firms had been short selling GameStop stock in order to cash in when the company failed, but Gill’s grassroots effort throws a bolt in their plan.

Gill’s YouTube recommendation of the stock goes viral, and it catches fire with small investors who like the company. The investment firms’ responding efforts to entice GameStop investors to sell prompts a U.S. House investigation that subpoenas investors Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman) and, Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) as well as Gill so that the government can get to the bottom of what seems like a very odd situation.

To his credit Gillespie’s direction makes sure some semi-complicated financial situations are easily understandable — at least on a surface level. He also taps up the drama a bit by detailing the roller-coaster ride investors went on with Gill by telling the stories of college couple and Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myhala Herrold), GameStop store clerk Marco (Anthony Ramos), and nurse and mother Jennifer (America Ferrera), who all bought in on GameStop after watching Gill’s videos.

All of them are likable in their roles. Pete Davidson, who plays Gill’s brother Kevin, might not be exactly likable as he slurps other people’s soft drinks and eats fries from their delivery order, but he is funny.

Everyone is believable in the film from Dano to Shailene Woodley, who plays Gill’s wife Caroline, and Vincent D’Onofrio who plays an eccentric billionaire investor, but the movie is just too sedate. It lacks the juice, energy, and vitality that made similar topical films like “The Big Short” or the “The Social Network” outstanding.

My expectations were for something great going into the theater, but what was shown was merely good. Now, my lofty expectations were nobody’s fault but mine, but that doesn’t excuse a flaccid movie no matter how well told it is.

Nick Offerman and Seth Rogen in Dumb Money (Black Bear Pictures)

If you are inclined to see “Dumb Money,” I would encourage you to do so, with the caveat not to expect too much. You might really like it.

For me the most enjoyable aspect of the movie was the brotherly relationship between Davidson and Dano’s characters. I’d enjoy watching a more traditional comedy featuring them as brothers, friends or perhaps rivals.

With nearly every other performer working at low wattage, Davidson, whom I usually can take or leave, adds the most flare to an otherwise sedate movie.

In fact, I might have enjoyed the movie more had it been told through the perspective Ramos or Ferrera’s characters instead of Dano’s. But then again had Gillespie delivered more with them, the film still might not have had much energy.

Really, a documentary on the GameStop shorting would have been just as interesting and entertaining.

(R) 1 hr. 45 min.
Grade: B-

New in Local Theaters – Oct. 6, 2023

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Classic Corner

If you want to get into the Halloween mood with the kids this weekend, here are some fun options the whole family might enjoy.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

When the steam ran out of Universal Studios’ series of monster films in the mid-1940s, director Charles Barton developed the idea of having Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.) menace the studio’s top comedy duo, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. As odd as the idea may have been, it made for comedy gold. Both The American Film Institute and Reader’s Digest rank the 1948 film among their 100 best comedies, and in 2001 the U.S. Library of Congress registered the film as culturally historical and aesthetically significant. It’s a fun movie and a fine way to introduce the Universal monsters and Abbott and Costello to kids.

Mad Monster Party

Rankin/Bass, the company that produced the Christmas classic Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, created this 1967 stop-motion animated film that features the voice talents of Boris Karloff, Phyllis Diller, and Allen Swift among others. Baron Boris von Frankenstein (Karloff) calls a meeting of the World Organization of Monsters on the Isle of Evil and his nephew Felix Flanken, a Jimmy Stewart type voiced by Swift, is invited, too. From there monstrous hilarity ensues. Mad Magazine creators Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman designed the characters and wrote the script respectively. A deluxe version of the film is now available on 4K/Blu-Ray

The Monster Squad

The Monster Squad is basically what if the Goonies or Little Rascals met the Universal Monsters in 1987. The movie may be a bit scary and naughty for younger kids, but it should be right in the wheelhouse of most tweens. It’s a familiar plot with the Dracula-led monsters out to take over the world with only a group of precocious kids standing in the way.

The Halloween Tree

The Halloween Tree is a Daytime Emmy Award-winning animated adaption of Ray Bradbury’s 1972 novel that tells the story of four young friends whisked supernaturally away on a Halloween journey through space and time in search of the soul of their friend Pip, who is deathly ill. On that journey, the four friends discover the origins of Halloween by visiting various cultures around the world. The movie was produced by Hanna-Barbera and is wonderfully narrated by the author. It’s spooky fun, featuring the voice talents of Leonard Nimoy.