By Clint Morris
Like a geriatric nympho without his Sildenafil citrate, Oliver Stone’s tardy but topical ”Wall Street” sequel isn’t as hard and fast as it’s 1987 predecessor. But you know what? Softer it may be, but these further adventures of Corporate raider Gordon Gecko – complete with new opponents – still climax in a biting, exceedingly entertaining game of Hungry, Hungry Hippo.
In ”Wall Street”, Michael Douglas – in his Oscar Winning role – played a wealthy unprincipled corporate big wig (Gecko) that takes a young impressionable, broke stockbroker (Charlie Sheen) under his wing.
Great movie – even better performance from Douglas (who, believe it or not, was not Stone’s original choice for the role of Gecko. He only went to Douglas because Warren Beatty and Richard Gere had passed), one in which offered audiences such enduring lines as “Greed is Good” and “Money Never Sleeps, Pal”.
Like a double scoop at Wendy’s, Stone’s ”Wall Street : Money Never Sleeps” gives you a bit of the original (throwback references ensue, cameos by a couple of the original players) but also plonks on top a new flavour. It goes without saying that not everyone will appreciate the blend.
It’s 20-something-years later. Gordon Gecko (Douglas), his once slicked-back greasy hair now a scruffy silver mane, is fresh out of jail after serving time for that insider trading incident.
A lot has changed since Gecko’s been behind bars – not the least of which is the discovery that the dissipated, illegal practices he preached in the ‘80s are more popular than ever, but also, they’re legal.
We suspect the former raider wants in on the action again, but for the moment, he’s gotta make a $1000 cheque last and as such, can only afford to rent.
We soon discover Gecko’s got a daughter out there – Winnie (Carey Mulligan), a squeaky-clean do-gooder (she runs a not-for-profit website that Al Gore would likely be a frequent visitor to) who, rather expediently, lives with a susceptible, determined young stock-broker, Jacob (Shia LaBeouf).
When Jacob’s mentor Lewis Zabel (Frank Langella) commits suicide after unsuccessfully trying to save his corporation, the savvy numbers-kid – knowing full well whose father he is – turns to the charming, intelligent and Gecko. Jacob isn’t just looking for financial advise strictly…he’s also after someone to help him bring down the man responsible for his former boss’s demise, hedge fund manager Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Gecko is none too pleased to offer his assistance – but in return Jacob must convince Winnie to give her father the time of day again.
Story wise, scribe Allen Loeb could’ve probably concocted a storyline with more punch – one that further demonstrates the evil that rich men do, and one that also offers up a hard-hitting expose into the sleazy and spoilt lives of those that do stumble upon green. The current plot, though very engaging, just doesn’t pack as much punch as the original (think of it as Ivan Drago, and this as Clubber Lang). More so, Loeb also seems determined in throwing is as many references (and cameos) from the original film as possible, resulting in a picture that plays far more popcornish and commercial than Stone ostensibly imagined.
Are they flaws or prerequisites though?
Everyone likes a sequel to pay homage to the film that came before it, so understandable that Stone and Loeb would want to add some throwbacks in there. At the same time, they could’ve spliced those in so they didn’t play so much like a blu-ray trivia track – you know, where the coloured icon pops up from time to time, taking you out of the picture?
To the plot though, if Stone had done a movie about a corporate bigwig taking a young a pliable broker under his wing (one of whom later strikes it rich, getting busy in the party lifestyle, before succumbing to a knowable ruin) the filmmaker would only have been seen as repeating himself. The usually outspoken Stone clearly wanted to tell a different story this time – and that’s one of redemption and the importance of family. Here, he has Gecko be a blunt-toothed tiger that, though not possessing the bite he did years before, can’t ignore his rumbling stomach.
There’s still carnage in the financial battlefield, but the real war seems to be happening inside Gecko’s (and, to a lesser extent, Jacob’s) head, with a constant cartoon bubble asking ‘Does Money Really make you happy?’ lingering above.
As that film – a film about a sinner trying to right his wrongs (or is he?) with his estranged daughter, while acknowledging those hunger pains – ”Money Never Sleeps” succeeds brilliantly.
Performance-wise, everyone is firing on all cylinders – LaBeouf and Mulligan make for a delightfully vulnerable hero/heroine twosome (he, having spent the last few years being no more than a hot prop in the likes of ”Transformers” and ”Indiana Jones”, is particularly impressive), Josh Brolin is rock solid as evil high-flyer James (and looking more and more like his father each day), Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon shine in small but pivotal parts, and Austin Pendelton finally gets a seat at the adults table (he’s known for his comedic parts) via his relatable, meaty turn as one of Jacob’s screwed-over clients.
But, of course, this is Michael Douglas’s show and though the claws are detracted, he again reminds us why the Academy voted Gordon Gecko their Man of 1998.
“Wall Street 2” is not “Wall Street” – for better or worse? You decide.
Commentary by Stone, Interviews with the Cast. The weight of the extras have been saved – not surprisingly – for the Blu-ray release.