What we have here, improbably, is a movie about the 2008 subprime mortgage meltdown that’s predictably sobering and infuriating, but also hugely informative and relentlessly entertaining.

This bit of edu-tainment from former SNL writer Adam McKay (Anchorman) crackles with wit, irreverence, and an oddball energy. Paradoxically, its wacky, cartoonish approach tells the story much more vividly and memorably than could any straight drama.

Based on Michael Lewis’ nonfiction book, it focuses on a handful of mavericks (including Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and a terrific Christian Bale). They see the subprime crash coming, sound the alarm—which no one heeds, and then mount a massive short-sell in the hope of making a ton of money. The film kind of plays down the concept that just because you defy the system doesn’t mean you’re not part of it. But that’s a quibble.

The structure is unique. The characters, from time to time, break the fourth wall and directly address the audience. A slick trick? Maybe. But it’s done so naturally that gimmickry is not what immediately comes to mind. And it’s an economical way to explain such arcane financial instruments as credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations. Other fine points are taken up by entirely unrelated celebrities pressed into service to offer mini-lessons: Margo Robie in a bubble bath, Selena Gomez playing blackjack, and Anthony Bordain using a fish stew as an analogy.

The final message is appropriately brilliant and chilling. Wall Street is not fixed yet. You leave the theater amused, but thinking.

Japanese Title: Money Short. (132 min)