Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Directed by Oliver Stone.
2010. Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.
Shia LaBeouf
Michael Douglas
Carey Mulligan
Josh Brolin
Frank Langella
Susan Sarandon
Austin Pendleton
Vanessa Ferlito

There is a lot of stuff happening, here. The iconic Gordon Gekko (Douglas) is finally out of jail and armed with a best-selling book. Still, his daughter Winnie (Mulligan) blames him for everything since the crucifixion of Christ and wants nothing to do with him. Of course, this means she’s in love with a guy just like him. That guy is Jake Moore (LaBeouf), a young Wall Street hotshot with a jones for an alternative energy company in California.

Keep up, we’re just getting started.

The firm Jake works for collapses. Did I mention this is set in 2008? Anyhoo, when the firm goes belly up, Jake’s beloved boss Lou (Langella) can’t take it anymore, or finally had enough of the smell in the subway, and steps in front of a train. As you would expect, Jake gets all pissed and , tries to go Jason Witwicky and get Bumblebee to kick some ass. However, since he can’t do that in this movie, he decides he’s going to try and take down the man who he thinks is responsible for all his recent misfortunes, Gordon Gekko…oh, wait, sorry. That would’ve made it more interesting. Instead, it’s some other cold-hearted arrogant mogul named Bretton James (Brolin). He’s the kind of guy that likes to stab people in the back and then come around front and act tough as they die.

Well, since it is 2008 and all, the Dow Jones does all of Jakes heavy lifting and all the firms soon find themselves in financial ruin and facing extinction. By the way, there’s also Jake’s mom (Sarandon) who’s a real estate junkie, a cajillion karat engagement ring and an angry liberal website.

Phew! Let me catch my breath.

Actually, all that sounds like an interesting movie. Add in the fact that Oliver Stone is indeed directing the sequel to one of his masterpieces, and this has the pedigree to be great. Sadly, it’s nothing of the sort. It’s just a bunch of stuff.

An old baseball saying warns us to “make them beat you with your best pitch.” If you’re a pitcher tasked with getting out the other team’s star hitter in a potentially game-changing moment, throw your best pitch. If that pitch is a 100 mph fastball, go with that. Don’t bother with your curveball that doesn’t curve so much. For non-baseball fans, it simply means go with what you do best in crucial situations. WS: MNS rarely throws its best pitch.

It’s best pitch is the Gordon Gekko of the original movie. That Gekko is simultaneously magnetic and repulsive. He is irreverent, unapologetic, self-absorbed and above all, greedy. He is one of the best villains of the 1980s, possibly of cinematic history. This version is much more pathetic. His smugness and sliminess has lost most of its appeal. Worse than that, because we do get glimpses of the old Gordon, he’s a secondary player on what should’ve been his stage to shine.

That stage is thoroughly hogged by Jake and James. As our good guy, LaBeouf does what LaBeouf always does, take it or leave it. As the bad guy, Brolin turns in another in what’s becoming a long line of impressive performances. The problem is the characters themselves. They’re both less interesting knock-offs of their counterparts from the original, with equally less interesting dialogue and relationship between them. There’s no complexity to it. It’s simply good guy vs. bad guy. The original gave us two guys who obviously admired one another and, for a time, really were on the same side. The sequel ditches that for standard hero/villain fare, not its best pitch.

About two-thirds of the way through, we get a cameo by Charlie Sheen, ever so briefly reprising his role as Bud Fox. This might be the best scene in the movie. That’s the worst thing that it could’ve been. Seeing Sheen and Douglas have a short, but contentious conversation is too much a reminder of what could’ve been. It’s a mere hint of the movie we wanted. After a few fleeting moments, Sheen walks off dragging our hopes and dreams, kicking and screaming behind him, never to be seen again. There went the movie’s best pitch.

We get more curveballs that don’t curve. We get lots of drawn out scenes of meetings where old men try desperately to save their own backsides. We get lots of one-on-one meetings between others, either trying to save themselves or talk tough to one another. We get lots of clips of CNN. All of this is steeped in joyless financial jargon. The movie only moves away from feeling like economics class when it involves Gekko’s daughter, Winnie. However, with her constant whining she’s much more an annoyance that the reprieve we need.

This movie has needs, too. Apparently, it needs us to like the Gekko family, along with Jake who keeps threatening to be their new addition. To that end, everything is wrapped up in one gutwrenchingly cheesy and hastily tied little bow. All of the good guys will have their cake, and eat it too. It’s too easy, too cliché and not Oliver Stone’s best pitch.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

No comments:

Post a Comment