When Oliver Stone made Wall Street, way back in the boom decade of the eighties, his ostensible villain became an iconic hero. For a generation of Manhattan money men, eager to look and talk like Gordon Gekko, life imitated the movies. They aped his suits and his swagger and his pompadour and his mantra, inflating "Greed is good" into "Greedier is better." Eventually, of course, the overblown market collapsed and the Greediest stooped to collecting their government bailouts. Once again, in corporate America, profits stayed privatized while losses got socialized.
So, yes, a sequel was definitely in order, and the second coming of Wall Street, subtitled Money Never Sleeps, should be a welcome sight. Alas, not so. Maybe money doesn't sleep but, through 2 hours and 15 minutes of meandering and pontificating, I'm afraid you might. If hubris, hypocrisy, untold billions and unpunished guilt are the stuff of drama, then there's a great film to be made about the economy's meltdown. Already, some very good documentaries have excavated the tawdry facts. By contrast, this is just tedious fiction.
It starts with Gekko (Michael Douglas again) having done his slammer time and shuffling out of jail. Ill-dressed, with no one to greet him, the guy looks as bare and unaccommodated as Lear on the heath. Happily, he has an option unavailable to ruined Celtic kings - yep, the tell-all book. Cut to 2008 when, thanks to his tome, Gekko is back, not on the top but at least on the tube, prophesizing about the darkness to come, "the mother of all evil - it's systemic, malignant, and global." On TV or off, that's our Gordon: He doesn't so much speak as spout, spraying aphorisms every which way. The wonder is that Douglas keeps him almost entertaining.
Meanwhile, his daughter Winnie (the beguiling Carey Mulligan) is willfully estranged from Daddy and contentedly engaged to Jake (a lightweight Shia LaBeouf). Young and driven, Jake is a Wall Streeter with a conscience - specifically, his investment skills are focused on alternative-energy companies.
In other words, the kid may be filthy rich but he does put his greenbacks to green use. Yet conscience is a luxury, which gets severely taxed when's Jake's firm, headed by his beloved mentor, goes belly up. Right quick, the mentor jumps in front of an onrushing subway train while we're faced with the oncoming villain. That would be Bretton James (Josh Brolin), a ruthless banker and today's greedier Gekko. But don't expect life to imitate him, unless you're one of life's overactors, in which case Brolin's scenery-chewing turn should prove inspiring indeed.
From there, the thin plot ventures off on thinner tangents, where the questions multiply even as the answers procrastinate. Will Jake lose his fiancée's love? Will Daddy regain his daughter's love? Will the good Gordon revert to the bad Gekko? Will the dialogue stop making speeches and actually talk? Well, as the finish line nears and someone (I'm not saying who) splutters, "I'm your Dad and, to the day I die, you're my gal," we finally know the answer to at least one of those questions.
Saddled with this hollow script, Stone pads with elaborate set pieces. There's the lavish charity ball at the Metropolitan Museum, the sort of hyperbolic scene that adds little to a film but a lot to its budget. There's the gratuitous action sequence that has Jake and the Baddie racing their speedy motorcycles to no apparent point. And there's not one but two big tableaus at the Federal Reserve Bank where, around a board table filled with financial heavyweights, Eli Wallach pops up as a wizened sage old enough to remember the Crash of '29. Poor Eli - aged and tiny, he sits among the titans like a weathered garden gnome, steadfastly mute before breaking his silence with this burst of foreshadowing: "It's going to be the end of the world."
Instead, it's just the end of our patience. Perhaps sensing that, Money Never Sleeps wakes up long enough to tack on a contrived resolution with unseemly haste. At that point, one of Gekko's aphorisms begins to sound like a warning: "Money isn't the prime asset in life - time is." If so, waste both at your peril.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
- Directed by Oliver Stone
- Written by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff
- Starring Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan
- Classification: PG