Sunday, September 26, 2010

REVIEW: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Maybe money never sleeps, but Oliver Stone's follow-up to his 1987 film comes closer than I expected to being drowsy.

It's a perfectly decent, enjoyable picture, but coming from a firebrand like Stone, it feels surprisingly tame. A movie with a plot wrapped around our economic woes would seem rife with dramatic possibilities, but it doesn't really mine them as deeply as I hoped.

The film begins with Gordon Gekko's release from prison, claiming among his belongings a mobile phone the size of a shoe. Crossing his path is - what else? - a young, opportunistic hustler, Jake Moore (Shia LeBeouf), who falls under Gekko's spell. Gekko may not be rolling in dough anymore, but he still has charisma to spare, and Jake is hooked.

And this time, the emotional stakes are high  - Jake just happens to be engaged to Gekko's estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) - and she refuses to have anything to do with her father.

On paper that sounds dramatically intense - on film, not so much. And that's strange. The actors all do good work. If anything, years of wear and tear on Gekko makes him more interesting for Douglas to play, and he does so to the hilt. Shia is well cast as the cocky rookie, and Mulligan is one of the brightest talents around. Stone directs the picture energetically, as well, creating several montages that pulse with energy, and the sequel moves fairly briskly.

Usually, however, if Stone errs, he does so by overplaying his hand, often underlining his points with sledgehammer dialogue. This time, however, the movie feels undercooked.

The original Wall Street had a fairly predictable plot, but it unfolded with a sense of urgency - and that sense is mostly missing here. And as is so often the case, I think the failure lies at script level. LaBeouf's character doesn't have much depth, so it's hard to develop a rooting interest in him. Gekko's daughter spends most of her time either scowling or crying - and not even Mulligan's considerable charisma can make her character compelling beyond surface level.

With all the financial peril in the headlines, the movie is certainly timely - and yet, in a strange way, maybe that's why it feels half -baked. Bombarded as we are with information 24/7 about the economy, a movie about it feels like old news by the time it comes out.

Wall Street famously told us that "greed is good." This new film tells us it's legal. As Gekko points out, his misdeeds were small time compared to today's financial shenanigans, and the sequel doesn't capitalize on that enough. The new movie doesn't crash, but it certainly doesn't explode either. GRADE: B-

No comments: