It’s hardly a revelation that some of the rich tycoons who run Wall Street are crooked and yet it seems like every few months we’re given a film that examines the greed inherent in the American economic system. The latest of these is Money Monster, a thriller that attempts to show how the selfish decisions of the rich can shatter the lives of the poor. Directed by Jodie Foster, it’s a film that tries to be gripping and insightful at the same time, while somehow never managing to accomplish either. This is a pretty mediocre experience that’s really only elevated by its strong cast.

It begins as just another day on Wall Street for Lee Gates (George Clooney), the host of “Money Monster”, a television show that offers advice on the stock market. Gates’s guest was supposed to be Walt Camby (Dominic West), the CEO of a company who just lost investors $800 million after their trading algorithm suffered a glitch, but Camby was unable to attend the show. Instead, Gates is treated to a much more unexpected guest: a gunman named Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell). Budwell is a blue-collar worker who lost $60,000 because of Gates’s advice to invest in Camby’s company. Budwell pulls out an explosive vest, straps it to Gates and demands that the cameras continue rolling so he can have an international platform to air his grievances about Wall Street. It’s going to take the charm of Gates and the quick thinking of the show’s director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to ensure that everybody makes it out of this alive.

With this premise and the fact that the film occurs seemingly in real time, you would think the hostage situation would be both intense and suspenseful, but Foster’s direction doesn’t generate a lot of excitement. Her filmmaking abilities are certainly competent, but she’s unable to do anything spectacular to elevate the film above its mediocre script. If the screenplay by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf had done more than present surface level themes of greed and corruption, Foster’s unimaginative direction wouldn’t have mattered quite as much. But both the director and the screenwriters have landed directly in the realm of mediocrity, resulting in a film that feels very middle-of-the-road.

If it hadn’t been for the solid cast, there’s a chance that Money Monster would have been completely forgettable. Clooney and Roberts lead the pack and while their performances aren’t anything spectacular, they do elevate the material a great deal. The film’s third act might get a little ridiculous, but this is still pretty watchable. It’s not until the movie ends that you’ll realize how any potential generated from the setup is squandered in a mostly forgettable experience. It might not be worth seeing in theaters, but it’s probably the perfect movie to half-watch on cable on a rainy day.

Money Monster receives 2/4

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