Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) idolizes his Wall St. boss Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), so when he receives his first bonus check to the tune of a million plus, he thanks the man personally and pours it all into Keller Zabel Investments just as it goes into a Goldman Sachs-like meltdown. But Jake happens to be engaged to Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan, "Never Let Me Go") and even though she's estranged from her disgraced dad Gordon (Michael Douglas), he approaches the man in secret, hooking up with a new mentor who tells him that on "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."
'Greed is good' became a powerful catchphrase back in 1987 when the original "Wall Street" came out during times of Reaganomics and deregulation and director Oliver Stone ("W.") was surprised when his uber-villanous corporate raider became an inspiration, so when the U.S. economy began to collapse as a result of the economic policies of that earlier decade, it would seem fitting that Stone would want to revisit the character which won Douglas an Oscar. But even though "Money Never Sleeps" is set in 2008, it already seems dated. Not only that, but Stone, working from a screenplay by Allan Loeb ("21," "The Switch") and Stephen Schiff ("True Crime"), overreaches and ends up with a story that feels scattershot. Douglas is fine returning as Gekko, but even he fails to really ignite.
Like the original film, though, the action is really centered on its younger protagonist (Douglas is one of those Best Actor winners, like Anthony Hopkins in "Silence of the Lambs," whose supporting role kept an overwhelming shadow over the entire film). Moore is a fast-talking, ambitious Wall St. trader, but his passion for promoting green energy is what makes him OK with Winnie, the creator of the non-profit frozentruth.com. They're a couple of dynamic young professionals living the life in a stunning Manhattan apartment (which makes one question Jake's astonishment over that million dollar check). Jake is unmoored, though, by Zabel's suicide and his company's failure and his realtor mom's (Susan Sarandon, in the film's most entertaining performance) floundering financial dependence. He attend's a lecture by Gekko where he's peddling his new book 'Is Greed Good?' and learns that Bretton James (Josh Brolin, "W.") of Churchill Schwartz is the man who took Zabel down at a Federal Reserve meeting where the bailout had been discussed.
And so the film branches out into three main plots - Jake's revenge against James, Jake's attempt to reunite Gekko and his daughter and the gray shadings in both Jake and Gordon's characters as they plot to get what they want (Jake, his hydrof usion business, Gordon, reentry as a player in the game). None of the story lines is really satisfying, most notably Jake's investment into hydro fusion which Stone illustrates, with the exception of one boardroom presentation, as a series of phone calls between Jake and scientist Dr. Masters (Austin Pendleton) as things go from bad to worse.
Stone so often seems out of touch. He begins amusingly enough, economically assaying how things have changed in the eight years since Gekko went into the clink. The return of his cell phone, the size of a brick, gets a good laugh, just as the passenger meant for the limo pulling up outside the prison gates does. But after that, Stone relies on devices like wipes, floating computer graphics and split screens that are dated for a film that's being updated. Music, too, seems more contemporary to Stone that his film. Twice he uses a child's soap bubble to make a literal statement. What he does get right is the continue excess of the privileged and the personal deal making that goes on for those on the second tiers to reach it (although the 'trades' made between Jake and Gordon are a bit too twee). I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about that image of Zabel on a men's room stall.
It never really makes sense that a do-gooding blogger like Winnie would take up with a Wall St. trader, even one promoting green energy, just as the real life coupledom of LaBeouf and Mulligan perplexes many. LaBeouf convinces as a trader under pressure more than as a lover while Mulligan is dewy-eyed. Douglas replays Gekko with the hint of seediness of a fallen man. What's really weird is how the character calls up the real Douglas, comparing, as he does, the current economic model to cancer and having lost his daughter because of having lost his son to drugs. Langella and Brolin are both fine as money men on the way out and on the way up, but it is veteran actor Eli Wallach who grabs attention as shadowy insider Jules Steinhardt, Bretton's boss. Charlie Sheen's Bud Fox returns for one scene at a MoMA fund raiser, back slapping with is old nemesis from greater heights. Watch for cameos from Stone himself, financial news reporter Maria Bartiromo, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and Warren Buffett.
The film's happy family ending smacks of compromise in more ways than one. Perhaps Stone's second floating soap bubble is supposed to signal trouble. "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is not to big to fail. It's entertaining enough, but unlike the original, this one's looking in a rear view mirror.
Robin did not see this film.
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