AS A DIRECTOR, Jodie Foster has specialized in bringing unconventional scripts to clear-eyed life, with films such as Home for the Holidays and The Beaver achieving a fascinatingly honest messiness. This is not one of those times. Money Monster, Foster's first movie in five years, is a pedantic, largely juiceless misfire of the sort that maybe only really smart people can achieve. While the top-tier cast occasionally starts to get something going, the predictability of the plot's hostage scenario—and the toothlessness of the jokes—keep dragging the film down. Money Monster is a satire about television that feels like it was made by the kind of people who claim they don't even watch TV.
Shot in something approaching real-time, the plot follows a very Jim Cramer-esque TV host (George Clooney) continually saved from his worst impulses by his level-headed director (Julia Roberts). But all the show's animated graphics and shouting at the camera take on a new dimension when a former fan (Jack O'Connell, sporting what appears to be every NY Scorsese accent smushed together) enters the studio with a bomb and a list of grievances. Many, many reaction shots of rapt viewers follow.
It's always fun to see Clooney play a buffoon, and he performs admirably here, even pulling off the moments when his character starts mock-ecstatically grinding away to hip-hop. Up in the booth, Roberts is given less to do, but still manages to pull off an interesting mix of concern and get-the-shot ruthlessness. Their efforts, however, are largely shut down by Money Monster's hectoring, weirdly antiquated premise. (Aside from a lone Vine reference, there's nothing here that feels of the moment.) The ethics of Wall Street Fat Cats are certainly ripe for a pasting, now than ever—but Money Monster mainly succeeds in holding forth and talking down.