(Dir. Oliver Stone, 2010)
Spoiler Alert!: This review gives away a number of key plot points because, well, I just don’t care.
Last year I wrote that a sequel to Oliver Stone’s seminal 1987 WALL STREET was one of 10 sequels to classic movies that should not happen. Despite that I had a tiny sliver of hope inside that the controversial director might pull off another timely indictment of America’s financial system.
Sadly, the return of Gordon Gekko to the silver screen is no such film. It’s as unnecessary a retread as BLUES BROTHERS 2000, which incidentally also began with the prison release of a major character.
In 2002, Michael Douglas as Gekko, 67 years old with his lion's mane of hair now gray, walks out of Sing Sing Maximum Security Prison after serving 8 years to find nobody waiting for him. The camera circles his head to let this sink in.
The film flashes forward to 2008 and for a while it’s Shia LaBeouf’s movie. LaBeouf is an ambitious trader – think Charlie Sheen in the first film but with more ethics – engaged to Douglas’ activist blogger daughter (Carey Mulligan).
LaBeouf’s mentor (Frank Langella) at his firm commits suicide after rampant rumors cause the company’s stock to crash.
Josh Brolin, as an old school Gekko-ish hedge fund manager, is suspected by LaBeouf as being the source of the rumors. Going behind Mulligan’s back, LaBeouf consults with Douglas who wants to be close to his daughter again.
Mulligan wants nothing to do with her father. She blames him for the overdose death of her brother and she’s vehemently against the Wall Street world which makes it hard to believe that she’s surprised to find out that her fiancé is a “Wall Street guy”.
LaBeouf wants to avenge Langella, make a name for himself, and sincerely help a renewable fusion-energy company run by the always nice to see Austin Pendleton – in the same manner that Sheen wanted to help out his father’s ailing airline.
Upon learning that Douglas set his daughter up with a Swiss trust fund worth $100 million, LaBeouf finds himself caught in a web of convoluted double crossings.
Stone uses every visual trick up his sleeve to shape this material – at a point in one of several flashy montages full of split screens, tangled neon cable news ticker tape, and computer animation I felt like I was trapped in a MSNBC hall of mirrors.
The problem is that what made the first movie great is that Gordon Gekko was not a redeemable character. He was a symbol of corporate evil and a necessary one, for there are horrible fiscal creatures out there that destroy thousands of people’s lives with no remorse.
If Gekko truly isn’t a sociopath (as his daughter calls him early on), but a visionary that predicts the economic collapse in 2008 and can be won over by a disc containing his future grandson’s ultrasound – what does he symbolize now?
Douglas’s Oscar winning performance of Gekko in the first film was named by AFI as number 24 of the top 50 movie villains of all time in 2003. After his defanged depiction here that number will surely drop next time they update the list.
It’s understandable that Stone and Douglas wanted to revisit this terrain, but with its predictable plot and pat happy ending this is more than a missed opportunity – it’s a failed follow-up of epic proportions.
One of the only enjoyable elements is the soundtrack provided by David Byrne and Brian Eno. As the first film ended with the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”, this one obviously tries to match the mood with a fine selection of the duo’s collaborations. When these melodies appear it’s the only time that this film feels anywhere near the league of the original.
Beyond that, WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (awful title) has little point to it, except maybe to unleash a bunch of new Gekko-isms on the public.
Of the many so called pearls of wisdom the slick slimy Gekko spouts - “Idealism kills every deal” – sticks out. By sparing us the true cutthroat nature of the beast in favor of trite sentimentality, the deal is definitely dead as a doornail here.