“Slick” is one word that describes Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone’s sequel to his 1987 morality tale about greed and self-destruction among stock market wheelers and dealers. Another word is “unnecessary.”
The year is 2001 and Michael Douglas is back as Gordon Gekko, the role that won him an Oscar 22 years ago. History is not likely to repeat itself. Gekko has served eight years for insider trading, securities fraud, money laundering and racketeering, but aside from his scruffy haircut, scuffed shoes, gray hair and the fact that his cell phone is out of date, nothing has changed. No friends, enemies or family show up at the federal prison to greet him, including his estranged daughter, Winnie (a wasted Carey Mulligan). Gekko is a forgotten man, but he’s got plans.
Cut to 2008. An ambitious new high-roller S.O.B. named Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a pint-size version of the ruthless market trader Gekko used to be, is making millions at an investment firm run by his 75-year-old mentor, Lou Zabel (Frank Langella). Jake is also in bed with Gekko’s idealistic daughter, an environmentalist who thinks he’s dedicated to saving the planet. But before Jake can prove his intentions are honorable, his firm is saddled with toxic debt and driven out of business. Another hardball villain named Bretton James (Josh Brolin) takes over the rival company for a fraction of its value and drives Jake’s ruined boss to suicide.
Broke, unemployed and in mourning, Jake attends a lecture at Fordham University by Gekko, who has spent the past eight years writing a book about his get-rich schemes.
While trying to reconcile Gekko with his daughter, Jake seizes an opportunity to use the legal loopholes in the anemic financial system to doom the U.S. economy. Instead of rehabilitation, Gekko, the disgraced former king of Wall Street, is inspired by his unstoppable junior shadow to climb back up the ladder, destroy kingpin Brolin, and make a comeback by stealing Winnie’s hundred-million trust fund. Everyone lies and cheats while the markets crash around them. Almost everyone in the movie is despicable, so who cares? Did I fail to mention that the script (by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff) is so technical it is rendered very close to incomprehensible?
This is a world about knowing the price of all things corporate and the value of nothing at all, about buying and selling lives on the stock market like T-shirts, where declarations of bankruptcy signal no more surprise than weather reports. There’s an enormous amount of talk about leverage, speculation, borrowing to the hilt and global malignancy, not to mention elaborate conversations about growth levels in solar energy technology, fusion hardware and ocean thermal-water conversion that will keep you fighting to stay awake. About 80 percent of the dialogue is delivered in Wall Street double talk devoted to a traffic jam of face-lifts and long-winded bores seeking new ways to make billions on investment portfolios by robbing the world of whatever it takes to spend the rest of their lives on private jets, wintering in St. Barts. The remaining 20 percent is about Gekko’s weak efforts to get his daughter back while predicting the meltdown of global financial system.
The fan magazine charisma of LaBeouf eludes me, while the dazzling Mulligan is reduced to blandness for the first time on film. (She can currently be seen to better effect in Never Let Me Go.)
Susan Sarandon makes a brief appearance as Jake’s hysterical mother who is always milking him for money to pay off her bad real estate investments, and from the first Wall Street, Charlie Sheen and Sylvia Miles return after 22 years to make “guest” appearances for no valid reason.
Douglas weaves in and out of the action to deliver a few bitchy lines, but the movie shreds what’s left of his character in time for an illogical family-reunion finale I found both embarrassing and overwhelmingly unconvincing. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a movie only a hedge fund manager could love.