By Alex McPherson

Less smart and invigorating than it thinks it is, but containing strong performances and comedic zing, director Craig Gillespie’s “Dumb Money” eschews the nuance of its recent-history narrative in favor of amiable watchability.

Gillespie’s film, based on “The Antisocial Network” by Ben Mezrich, dramatizes the tumultuous happenings of the Gamestop “short squeeze” of January 2021. A red headband-and- cat-shirt-wearing Redditor named Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a.k.a. DeepF*******Value on Reddit and Roaring Kitty on YouTube and Twitter, rallies an Internet army to fight back against The Rich and make it big.

After determining that the company is undervalued, Keith goes all in on GameStop — convincing his large swathe of followers on the subreddit r/wallstreetbets to buy GameStop stock and eventually make the price skyrocket to $500 a share. 

The uber-wealthy hedge fund managers betting on GameStop’s failure — Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio, sometimes accompanied by a CGI pig), and Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman) — lose billions by underestimating the demographic they disparagingly refer to as “dumb money,” while still having some nefarious tricks up their sleeves that result in a Congressional investigation.

Paul Dano as Keith Gill, aka Roaring Kitty

Beginning at the peak of the squeeze, where Rogen’s Plotkin runs to make a phone call in sheer panic, the film jumps back and forth between five groups of characters showcasing various perspectives on the situation, each introduced with text indicating their net worth.

There’s Gill, whose genius (or luck) and expertise in online parlance helped start a movement — facing pressure to sell his skyrocketing stock from his loving wife, Caroline (Shailene Woodley, mining some pathos out of a fairly simplistic role), his amusingly deadbeat brother Kevin (Pete Davidson, in top form), and his somewhat clueless parents, Steve (Clancy Brown) and Elaine (Kate Burton) — while never quite knowing when to call it quits.

There’s the down-on-his-luck Gamestop employee Marcos Barcia (Anthony Ramos), who’s passionate about the company but contending with a condescending boss (Dane DeHaan). There’s the indebted University of Texas undergraduates Riri (Myha’la Herrold) and Harmony (Talia Ryder), who follow Roaring Kitty religiously and feel compelled to hold their shares as long as he does.

We also follow Jenny (America Ferrera), a stressed, underpaid nurse raising two toddlers and listening intently to Keith’s instructions. Last, and certainly least, there’s the hedge fund managers, caught with their pants down and scrambling to recover their losses, with Vlad Tenev (an underused but smarmily effective Sebastian Stan), the head of day-trading company Robinhood, playing a skeevy role in the whole kerfuffle.

With so many mini-narratives taking place under one umbrella, “Dumb Money” lacks the focus and thematic depth necessary to make any individual subplot hit with the force it could have. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a breezy interpretation of a true story, but it feels like Gillespie is only scratching the surface of the subject matter here — combined with filmmaking that lacks energy or pizazz, coasting on the appeal of its performers and snappy dialogue.

The whole cast delivers, doing what they can with characters of varying degrees of dimensionality. Dano is as reliably committed as always — weaving in and out of Keith’s various personas with ease; his confidence and quirkiness before his viewers reverting to awkwardness and defensiveness in front of his family. We never doubt the passion and devotion Keith has to his mission.

Davidson, once again definitely not playing against type, delivers the film’s most successful comedic lines. Lauren Schiker Blum and Rebecca Angelo’s screenplay mines dry comedy out of his laissez-faire approach to Kevin’s DoorDash job and his dumbfoundedness at Keith’s ever increasing ambition (and risk-taking) over not selling his stock. 

Ramos, Herrold, and Ryder are fine, bringing energy to their characters, even though we don’t learn all that much about them besides their participation in the short squeeze, and Ferrera sells Jenny’s anxiousness and desperation, putting her livelihood on the line and leaving her social life behind. 

Strength of the cast aside, though, one can’t help but feel like “Dumb Money” didn’t have to be an ensemble piece to begin with. What’s sacrificed by Gillespie’s approach is a deeper, more involving watch, where viewers fully understand the characters’ motivations rather than solely being told facts and being expected to buy into them.

Nick Offerman and Seth Rogen as hedge fund billionaires.

Viewers jump back and forth between the characters at various stages of the short squeeze, never spending enough time with them to fully appreciate their para-social bond with the man they’re risking their livelihoods over, relying on the heavy-handed screenplay to tell us how to feel in largely black-and-white clarity. 

Marcus, Riri, Harmony, and Jenny never meet Keith in-person — distanced yet hanging by his every word — and Gillespie misses an opportunity to explore the allure, compulsion, and righteousness they each feel by following Keith’s lead, besides bluntly stating that they feel certain ways before viewers cut away to a different character.

The hedge fund managers, brought to life with entertainingly snooty performances, are fun to sneer at, but one-note. It doesn’t help that Gillespie’s direction lacks energy, failing to capture the dynamism of directors tackling similar subjects like Adam McKay did with “The Big Short.”

Indeed, no amount of memes flashing on screen, Cardi B music drops, or amusing lines of dialogue can ever fully make up for the fact that “Dumb Money” is simplistic and devoid of true insight into the rigged game of stocks or wealth inequality. At least this David vs. Goliath tale remains an agreeable watch despite all this.

The screenplay’s preference for comedy — not dwelling on the stress or darker aspects of the story too much before reverting to laughs — undersells the stakes to a certain extent, but shines in moments separated from the Internet, especially involving Keith’s family and characters navigating mask-use during COVID. 

Additionally, it’s commendable that Gillespie makes all the stock-chatter mostly understandable and digestible. This approach, though — streamlining real-world events into accessible entertainment — applies to the film’s emotional element as well, rendering the attempts at both first-pumping and sobering moments all the more manufactured and lightweight, especially when the arguably more engaging epilogue is conveyed through on-screen text. 

At the end of the day, however, watching smug grifters get their just desserts remains satisfying to watch unfold, no matter how shallow Gillespie and company frame it. “Dumb Money” is too slight to linger long in the mind, but as a crowd-pleasing underdog story, it rises enough to the occasion.

Rushi Kota and Sebastian Stan as the Robinhood investors

“Dumb Money” is a 2023 comedy directed by Craig Gillespie and stars Paul Dano, Seth Rogan, Nick Offerman, Pete Davidson, Shailene Woodley, America Ferrara, Vincent D’Onofrio, Sebastian Stan, and Anthony Ramos. It is rated R for pervasive language, sexual material, and drug use, and the run time is 1 hour, 45 minutes. It opens in theaters Sept. 22. Alex’s Grade: B-

Note: this review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

By Alex McPherson

Sharp and cynical with plenty on its mind, director Halina Reijn’s “Bodies Bodies Bodies” delivers an unpredictable, ruthless, and highly entertaining experience.

Taking place in today’s age of Twitter and TikTok, the film centers around a “hurricane party” that goes dreadfully wrong. Sophie (Amandla Stenberg), a recovering addict who doesn’t text much in the all-powerful group chat, brings along her new boo, Bee (Maria Bakalova), a soft-spoken immigrant who’s less financially well-off than the rest of the gang. They’re heading to a mansion owned by the parents of David (Pete Davidson), who is trying desperately to seem manly.

Also present are David’s insecure-actor-girlfriend, Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), gregarious and “woke” podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott), Alice’s much-older boyfriend, Greg (Lee Pace), and the enigmatic Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), whose snide remarks invite suspicion early on. David, Emma, Alice, and Jordan — most with their own fraught history with Sophie — are weirded out that Sophie decided to show up to the party at all, setting the stage for plenty of tea to be spilled.

After most of the lot is sufficiently drunk and coked-up, the music blares, the storm rages, and Sophie suggests they play “Bodies Bodies Bodies.” First, everyone sits in a circle, takes a shot, and punches the person to their left — which, unsurprisingly, becomes emotionally charged, despite frequent reminders that they’re just doing it for funsies.

Then, they play a variation on the Murder in the Dark formula where a “killer” is selected, the lights go out, someone is tagged, and the players regroup to debate who did it. Unfortunately, the real bodies soon start piling up. With the wi-fi out, the Gen-Zers — plus 40-year-old Greg — revert to their dangerously self-absorbed tendencies, amplifying their petty conflicts into life-and-death stakes as they try to locate the true killer.

“Bodies Bodies Bodies” might not be for everyone, especially older folks, but Reijin’s suspenseful, layered, and memorable film expertly threads a needle where humor intertwines with tragedy. It doesn’t hurt that the entire cast absolutely nails their respective roles, bringing pathos to characters who often make narcissistic decisions to mask their insecurities. 

Indeed, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” doesn’t paint flattering portraits of any of them, but portrays them as lost souls so wrapped up in privilege and self-centeredness that strong communication is thrown to the wayside. Their dialogue — pervasively deploying topical buzzwords like “woke,” “ally,” “triggered,” “gaslight,” and more — provides plenty of laughs, but operates on a deeper metaphorical level as well.

Their exaggerated personalities represent a distillation of social media’s anti-social repercussions and their shelteredness from the outside world. They lack the skills, willingness, and intelligence necessary to evaluate the situation rationally, at the same time twisting those aforementioned buzzwords to apply to themselves, zapping them from meaning, and blowing up their “drama” so much that it turns to downright animalism.

That the film is still often hilarious is an achievement in itself, thanks to Sarah DeLappe’s screenplay and the whole cast. Sennott, memorable in “Shiva Baby,” once again shows her knack for comedic timing in several tirades that are simultaneously eye-rolling, gut-bustingly funny, and concerning, as this pressure cooker of a film continues to gain steam.

Davidson brings his usual off-kilter shtick with some genuinely uncomfortable moments sprinkled in, exemplifying the film’s tonal shifts from ridiculous to shocking. Pace is also great as Greg, a Gen-Xer more separated from the others’ worldviews.

Bakalova, who was so good in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” brings an air of mystery and maybe-innocence to the character of Bee, from whose perspective the film largely takes place. Bee, the odd one out, is essentially trapped with a bunch of crazy people, but has her own secrets nevertheless that paint a target on her back.

Wonders, as Emma, effectively conveys her cattiness and fragility. Stenberg gives a stellar performance, rendering Sophie one of the more multifaceted partygoers, her naivete creating more issues than solutions. Herrold is perhaps the standout of them all, lending a stern calculation to Jordan’s actions largely fueled by economic and romantic anxieties.

As the chaos ensues, Jasper Wolf’s claustrophobic, handheld cinematography, with many scenes lit by glow-sticks and smartphone flashlights, fits the proceedings like a glove, underlining the long-held resentments between the “friends.” The electronic-sounding score, by Disasterpiece, is fittingly paranoid and jumpy, reflecting the digital sphere turning into a figurative warzone. The soundtrack, including a track by Charlie XCX, is laced with irony. 

No spoilers here, but the final reveal is perfect, reframing everything that came before in new light that should benefit repeat viewings. Taken as a whole, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is far more than a mere cringe-comedy or a seen-it-before slasher movie. Rather, this is a satire with real bite, demonstrating a thesis that resonates in our increasingly divided reality.

“Bodies Bodies Bodies” is a 2022 horror comedy thriller directed by Halina Reijin and starring Rachel Sennott, Maria Bakalova, Pete Davidson, Lee Pace, Myha’la Herrold, Amanda Stenberg and Chase Sui Wonders. Rated R for violence, bloody images, drug use, sexual references and pervasive language, its run time is 1 hour, 34 minutes. It opened in theaters Aug. 5. Alex’s Grade: A