Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
One of these things is not like the others.

Theatrical Release Date: 09/24/2010
Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Frank Langella, Eli Wallach, Susan Sarandon

It’s been 23 years since Michael Douglas famously told us via his character of Gordon Gekko that “Greed is good” in director Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street”. Since then, that mantra has dominated both the cinematic and real world. Ticket prices, production budgets and actors’ salaries have all skyrocketed while the stock market climbed to record heights, dipped in its cyclical fashion and, in 2008, had the bottom dropped out from under it via a host of morally bankrupt lending policies and the sheer money-lust of banks, brokers and the legislative bodies supposed to oversee the process.

This environment makes the case for the return of Gekko and an examination of how greed has affected the economy; hence, Stone is back with “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”. It makes a lot of sense, as Douglas’ character is the perfect vehicle to espouse a critical viewpoint and Stone has made a habit of being a provocateur. Sadly, what ends up on the silver screen is a bland, bi-polar mess.

First of all, Stone should have learned that when continuing a franchise that’s been lying dormant for many years, you don’t cast Shia LaBeouf. If “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” taught the world anything, it’s that LaBeouf can’t stand up to Hollywood icons and Michael Douglas certainly overpowers the neurotic flavor of the month. While we sadly do not get one of Shia’s patented “no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no” exclamations when the stock market crashes, we are forced to endure the notion that Frank Langella took this over-caffeinated thinks-he-knows-it-all under his wing. And whether it’s Douglas, Langella or Carey Mulligan (playing Gekko’s daughter), they all outshine LaBeouf and as the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link (goodbye).

The only positives to the film are the acting talents of the remaining cast, which also includes Josh Brolin playing a slimy billionaire intent on controlling the financial markets and Eli Wallach as an old school banking head who isn’t as addled as his appearance belies. Everyone fills their role nicely and it’s possible this could have led to something worth talking about once the credits roll. Susan Sarandon is a bit of an exception here, playing LaBeouf’s real estate broker mother forced to return to a nursing job when that market fails but I don’t blame her for writing a script that allows someone who makes constant bad choices to get a good job so easily when millions of other Americans are scrambling to find anyway to support their families.

No, I blame Oliver Stone himself, who has seemingly decided to take no stand at all in this issue. Rather than really attack the financial system, he merely hints at the problems within and gives no one any real or believable consequences (aside from Langella, but his exit merely infuriated me for having to endure the rest of the film without him). Actually, rather than be truly about global economic failings, this is a redemption film for Gekko, as he seeks to reconcile with his estranged daughter. Sure, the script has Douglas’s character screw everyone over once again but rather than let this logically play out, Stone apparently wants to believe that all of us, no matter our faults or actions, can make a 180 in their lives … all within the span of about a year.

To that end, the film actually has perhaps the most saccharine final ten minutes I’ve seen all year. Yes, somehow this is the feel good economic collapse film of the year! Isn’t that great!? Wait … what? How in the hell do you allow characters who have been at odds with each other for decades all of a sudden decide to bury the hatchet and ride off into the sunset on a white horse? And why was Stone using ridiculously obvious symbolism like literally toppling dominoes when the stock market crashes or literally blowing bubbles in reference to burgeoning economic sectors? And why would Gekko’s daughter, who seemingly can’t forgive her father, decide to date and fall in love with a Wall Street broker; seeing as it is that profession which she should see as the root of her family’s demise?

Now, I will admit that the screening audience seemed to eat up every fortune cookie saying Douglas spewed out (seriously, I think Confucius should get a writing credit), every whimpering mea culpa from LaBeouf, and every second of the completely impossible happy ending. However, I didn’t and left the theater hungry for something far more filling so “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” earns itself a 1.5 out of 5. It’s one thing to make a boring film, it’s something else entirely to take characters you created which had a connection to reality when they were conceived and turn them into common clichés, out of touch with the world in which they have re-awoken.