You would think a Wall Street veteran like me, who once got fired from a hedge fund, would find some schadenfreude in director Craig Gillespie’s “Dumb Money.” After all, this adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s 2021 book “The Antisocial Network” tells the tale of Brockton native Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a Redditor and YouTuber whose adventure in investing stuck it to the hedge-fund bros during the January ′21 short-squeezing of GameStop stock.
Alas, I could barely keep my eyes open during this unfunny snoozer packaged as a wannabe heir to Adam McKay’s 2015 film “The Big Short.” Movies like this one and “I, Tonya” (which Gillespie directed) make up a variation on the old “slobs vs. snobs” comedies that filled theaters for a few years after 1978′s “National Lampoon’s Animal House.” Except these new films add an extra layer of self-importance by throwing in real-life David vs. Goliath stories where the filmmakers spoonfeed viewers every scintilla of the plot — and every emotion we’re supposed to feel.
A quick recap of real-life events: GameStop was a video game retailer in trouble when investment management firm Melvin Capital (whose CEO, Gabe Plotkin, is played here by a slightly subdued Seth Rogen) took a short position on its stock. (The investment is basically betting on the stock price to fall, which is not uncommon; investing is a big craps table where betting against the player can be as lucrative as betting with them.)
Meanwhile, a group of regular people from a Reddit group called r/WallStreetBets caused a short squeeze on GameStop under the advisement of Gill’s YouTube-based, stock market expert alter-ego, Roaring Kitty. What that means is that they forced companies like Melvin Capital to buy more stock to cover their shorts. Demand outweighs supply, and those putting the squeeze on have a chance to make lots of money while those with shorts lose cash.
Admittedly, these dealings can be quite complicated, so I would take my explanation with a grain of salt. But “Dumb Money”’s script by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo is no more enlightening and treats every plot development as if it were too unbelievable to be true. There isn’t a subtle moment here, nor one where you actually care about any of the characters.
Some reviewers complained that “The Big Short” is just as guilty of these same trespasses. But that film, which I liked a lot more than this one, had great performances by Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling. It also left its explainers of financial terms to clever cameo asides by stars, like Margot Robbie, playing themselves.
In “Dumb Money,” we don’t get explanations from Robbie in a bathtub, but we do get them from her “Barbie” costar America Ferrara. She plays an exhausted nurse named Jenny who decides to invest. She’s joined in the venture by enthusiastic college students Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha’la Herrold), who don’t seem to have much to do besides relay details to us and scream out profane catchphrases.
Gillespie and his editor Kirk Baxter cycle through scenes of these one-dimensional characters, headache-inducing montages of cable news footage, YouTube re-creations, and TikTok videos. The pacing is frenetic, but the content is mind-numbingly dull.
“Dumb Money” does provide more insight into Gill’s home life, though it never explores the intriguing personality differences between the Clark Kent-like, mild-mannered financial analyst he is by day and the Superman who is Roaring Kitty at night. Dano is good, but Shailene Woodley is wasted in a truly regressive role as the wife who does little besides look concerned. As Gill’s stoner DoorDasher brother, Kevin, Pete Davidson plays another tired iteration of his familiar comic persona.
It doesn’t help that the bad guys are more colorful and interesting than our heroes, an easy feat when they’re played by heavy-hitters like Nick Offerman and Vincent D’Onofrio, the latter of whom shares his scenes as New York Mets owner Steve Cohen with a pig.
At its core, “Dumb Money” wants to boil all this down to a series of hollow stand-up-and-cheer moments. Based on the enthusiastic reaction of my audience at its premiere, the film does its job. But one man’s stand-up-and-cheer is another man’s stay-seated-and-snore.
Directed by Craig Gillespie. Written by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, based on “The Antisocial Network” by Ben Mezrich. Starring Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, America Ferrera, Seth Rogen, Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Offerman, Talia Ryder, Myha’la Herrold. 105 minutes. At AMC Boston Common, Coolidge Corner Theatre, suburbs. R (drugs, profanity, nudity — the usual Wall Street stuff)
Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.