TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A dark horse best picture contender, "The Big Short" thrives on its unapologetical braininess and bewildering complexity. Instead of taking the easy route and dumbing down its inside-baseball world of high finance con jobs that led to the mortgage market collapse and global recession, it hugs the financial nerdery tight enough to squeeze a human story out of it.
Director Adam McKay, the cheerful doofus who cranks out dumb comedies ("Anchorman," "Step Brothers" and "The Other Guys") with the consistency of an organ grinder, seems like an odd choice for a dry subjects about stiff collars and board meetings, but his talents turn out to be an ingenious match for the material.
He takes the book "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine," adds a talented cast (Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Marisa Tomei) and turns them lose to unleash their personalities and pathos in a witty script that never shies away from the baffling mega-money chicanery unfolding.
Bale plays a socially awkward numbers genius who ferrets out the scheme that will make turn him and his colleagues into ultra-rich super villains, shaking down banks and lower-middle class families by addicting them to bad mortgages, inflating their prices and then betting on their failures. Pitt plays a retired trader who gets in on the action for one last ride, Carell is the nasty-minded corporate raider and Gosling is the unapologetic slimeball feeding on the nonstop trough of ill-gotten gains.
In a brilliant move, McKay breaks up the story by tossing in throwaway explainers of financial jargon that gets tossed around in the movie. In one scene, we get a supermodel in a bubble bath, and in another we get Selena Gomez at a blackjack table. I can't say I walked away from the movie much wiser on the inner-workings, but at least I had fun during the lessons.
Paced with the frenetic urgency of a car hydroplaning off a cliff, "The Big Short" succeeds more at raw entertainment than it does in delivering its big ideas. The no-brainer moral is that the financial system needs reform and Wall Street greed needs to be put in check. The unnecessary After School Special moralizing is jarring and obvious, robbing it of the slickness of films like "The Wolf of Wall Street," which drive home the same points without breaking their breathless flow.
"The Big Short" is as thrilling and funny a movie as you're ever likely to see about the finance world, but like the commodities its characters push, it doesn't quite deliver on the bill of goods it promises. At least it's a worthy swindle.
RATING: 3 STARS OUT OF 4
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