SHORT TAKE: “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (**1/2)

Posted by · 10:29 am · May 14th, 2010

Cannes Film Festival

“Is greed good?” Gordon Gekko asks near the beginning of Oliver Stone’s glib, gleaming and endearingly trashy sequel to his 1987 corporate morality tale. Delivering the line, a looser-haired but stiffer-skinned Michael Douglas can barely resist licking his lips and winking; this is his earlier, Oscar-winning performance turned inside-out, emerging as lascivious pantomime, and he wants us to be certain he’s in on the joke.

Provided you are, too, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is one of the more pleasantly surprising studio pictures of the year thus far, and a significant improvement on its po-faced (and, 23 years on, now fearsomely dated) predecessor. If the sequel could never have been deemed “necessary,” it’s certainly as handily timed as can be. As the original served as dumb but not ineffective allegory for the coke-fuelled iniquities of 1980s capitalism, the new film not only does the same for credit-crunch sobriety in the post-2000s, but allows Stone his “Toldja!” moment to boot.

Not that the film is nearly as concerned with socio-economic commentary as it is with smirking self-parody: it arguably blew its best gag in the trailer, as Gekko’s bread-loaf-sized cellphone is returned to him on his exit from prison, but there’s plenty more idle fun where that came from, culminating in a slithery cameo from the original film’s star, a bronzed glamazon on either arm, that may as well have been credited: “and starring Charlie Sheen as himself.”

Rather more effort has been spent on these gleeful details than on the script, which efficiently recycles the plot of the first film, subbing Shia LaBeouf’s barely pubescent (and only occasionally Brooklyn-accented) trader for Sheen, Josh Brolin’s maroon-suited, Mephistophelean business shark for Douglas, and mostly letting Douglas hover over the proceedings as a cuddly dispenser of malevolent platitudes. “A fisherman always sees another fisherman from afar,” he intones sagely at one point, which makes almost much sense as a later warning to LaBeouf’s naïf: “You’re a monkey dancing on a razorblade.”

Brolin, as is his recent wont, doesn’t break much of a sweat to be the classiest thing here, though his animal metaphors suggest he isn’t as well-liked by writers Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff: “Are you a bee?” he barks at LaBeouf in the script’s arguable low point. “Do you like to sting people?” Even Shia won’t dignify that one with an answer.

If you haven’t got the idea by now, then, much of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is unreservedly terrible, from Stone’s reliance on mostly boneheaded visual metaphors (Bubbles! Dominoes! Diamonds!) to the almost resourcefully batty editing of David Brenner and Julie Monroe, neither of whom, clearly, has ever met a split-screen or cross-fade they didn’t like. Hey, let’s superimpose the face of Shia’s hot colleague over that of Carey Mulligan while they talk on the phone! Hey, why not?

Speaking of Mulligan, as the no-fun lefty girlfriend of LaBeouf (and heir to the Gekko fortune), she is nobly saddled with the film’s most nonsensical character: both highly principled and wholly suggestible, a type-A career woman who doesn’t practice birth control, and a supposedly gifted journalist who nonetheless writes articles with titles like “The Power of the Sun for My Son and Our Future.” (She’s not even the prime victim of the film’s vast disinterest in the opposite sex: that’d be poor Susan Sarandon, who, as LaBeouf’s recession-ruined mother, is granted three scenes to fluff her hair and chain-smoke the remainder of the pack she didn’t finish in “The Lovely Bones.”)

That Mulligan and LaBeouf’s earnest for-love-or-money romance is allowed to become the center track of the narrative is unfortunate, suggesting the writers are taking the whole enterprise rather more seriously than everyone else. Happily, the high camp served up by Stone and his senior cast members is loud and lurid enough to swallow these lulls: more, they have concluded, is definitely more. One senses Gordon Gekko would approve.

→ 16 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

16 responses so far

  • 1 5-14-2010 at 10:39 am

    Kyle said...

    If there’s ever been a movie I have no interest in seeing…

  • 2 5-14-2010 at 10:40 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’d have said the same thing beforehand. But it’s fun!

  • 3 5-14-2010 at 11:36 am

    snowballa said...

    “Hey, let’s superimpose the face of Shia’s hot colleague over that of Carey Mulligan while they talk on the phone! ”

    I don’t even know what to do with that visual.

  • 4 5-14-2010 at 11:46 am

    Michael said...

    it seems most critics tend to agree with your take that it isn’t a great movie but that it mostly entertains if you are interested in that type of story. I think I will pass b/c it is not my thing at all. thanks for keeping us up to date on your movie watching Guy! you are doing a great job.

  • 5 5-14-2010 at 11:55 am

    red_wine said...

    I saw the first one when I was very young, late at night on TV and it struck me then as a fairly engaging drama though with a All About Eve-ish track with the young hire upstaging the older established peer. A bit simple-minded and melodramatic so dunno where this one lands.

    Would you say LaBeouf is good for other dramatic roles or is best left to Transformers category material?

  • 6 5-14-2010 at 12:42 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    “…a significant improvement on its po-faced (and, 23 years on, now fearsomely dated) predecessor.”

    How can you be so sure that this won’t age just as horribly? I mean, it sounds like almost the same film, abeit under no illusions of its own schlockiness.

  • 7 5-14-2010 at 3:34 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Snowballa: Yeah, it kinda has to be seen to be believed.

    Hamer: Oh, I’m sure it will date too. But the built-in quote marks are a defence of sorts.

    Red Wine: “Simple-minded and melodramatic” is still the MO, but with added comedy. As for LaBeouf, I’m still unconvinced of his leading-man qualities — but he serves his purpose.

  • 8 5-14-2010 at 5:15 pm

    fabig2 said...

    some of the reviews I read were pretty excited by the film, The Hollywood Reported raved and Sasha was very happy in AD.

    I was pretty skeptical but now I want to see it, at least they say its pretty fun

  • 9 5-14-2010 at 7:07 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    I nominate “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” for worst film title of the year (so far).

  • 10 5-14-2010 at 7:32 pm

    tony rock said...

    My question is, do you think the film will receive mostly positive or negative reviews? I tend to agree with critics, whereas I often disagree with those who run this site.

  • 11 5-14-2010 at 10:19 pm

    Maxim said...

    The original Wall Street is a lot better and a hell of a lot more clever than it’s being given credit.

  • 12 5-15-2010 at 4:14 am

    Alex said...

    Great review Guy. Much credit.

    What do you say to Jeff Wells’s suggestion that the film falls apart in the final 25 minutes?

  • 13 5-15-2010 at 9:04 am

    caro said...

    many US journalists seem to like the movie (not great but so entertainment) whereas some french journalists ask if the movie isn’t a parody of the original!

  • 14 5-16-2010 at 4:59 am

    the other mike said...

    the 1st Wall Street was a classic, dont know why Guy is taking shots at it. Its up there with Scarface and Ferris Bueller as one of the 80’s endlessly watchable films. the 80’s are so underrated, musically as well.

  • 15 5-16-2010 at 9:38 pm

    MovieMan said...

    I’m just hoping it’s better than…well…every movie Stone has made this decade. None of them have been good, and “Alexander” was awful.

    I’m a huge fan of the original “Wall Street” (it was during his roll in the late 80s and early 90s, when he apparently didn’t miss a step), but this doesn’t sound quite as good.

  • 16 7-18-2011 at 12:07 am

    Rodger said...

    This movie was absolutely terrible.