Money Monster wants to be a film straight out of the ’70s, a snarling satire of media mores and capitalist villains, shot through with the profane fury of a Paddy Chayefsky script. At best, it’s a star vehicle from the late ’90s, a creakier, simpler tale of a hostage crisis at a facsimile of CNBC’s Mad Money, tied to the backs of two marquee idols—George Clooney and Julia Roberts. As its tense studio antics unfold, though, the sad truth becomes apparent: Money Monster is a movie-star vehicle that isn’t giving its movie stars anything to do.
That flaw is especially galling since it’s the fourth film directed by Jodie Foster, and her first since 2011’s The Beaver, a misguided but admirably demented attempt to restart Mel Gibson’s career. Foster has been an actor’s director in the past—Home for the Holidays is a bunch of great performances wrapped around a mediocre script—but she errs in Money Monster by handing the up-and-comer Jack O’Connell all the fun material. Beyond that, the film is existentially confused: It’s a media satire that isn’t humorous enough, and a hostage thriller that’s too light-hearted to maintain any real sense of danger.
Money Monster doubles as the name of the obnoxious stock-tip show hosted by Lee Gates (Clooney), a smiling can of hairspray who repeats Wall Street talking points under the guise of financial expertise. Despite Foster’s claims to the contrary, Lee comes off as an obvious parody of Mad Money host Jim Cramer, whose costume-and-sound-effect-heavy show suffered criticism after the 2008 financial crisis. To be sure, Money Monster’s script (credited to three writers) isn’t looking for subtlety: The financial industry is the villain, and Lee is a mass-media enabler, as well as an oblivious pawn in some larger fraudulent shell game orchestrated by a callous CEO (Dominic West).