Slight downturn

Strong performances prop up bloated Wall Street sequel

Old new money meets new new money.

Old new money meets new new money.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Starring Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan and Josh Brolin. Directed by Oliver Stone. Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7 and Tinseltown. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

Oliver Stone’s Wall Street sequel might have been, and perhaps even should have been, a must-see picture. And in some small, tenuous way, it still is, even if only by virtue of being a follow-up to Stone’s serendipitously iconic portrait of swaggering greed and dirty dealing in high finance from 1987.

In Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas)—the dynamic promoter of the greed-is-good gospel in the original—is coming out of federal prison and trying to regain some kind of foothold in a world that has moved on without him and, in the realm of big business, given ever more elaborate form to the standard he set for financial piracy. With the financial calamities of the present era either imminent or already in progress, still-fiery Gekko is very much inclined to redeem whatever he can of his past, especially if it gives him a means of capitalizing on whatever’s left of the future.

With both the character and his present-day circumstances, the film (whose screenplay comes not from Stone, but from writers Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff) has plenty of hot-button issues close at hand. But in the actual event, the whole thing comes off as little more than a long-winded, semi-coherent and occasionally bristling footnote to the earlier film.

In his 2010 incarnation, Gekko has mellowed with age and extended downtime, but the sardonic charisma of the Reagan-era financial pirate remains mostly undiminished. But the full-on reconsideration of that epochal character never really gains traction here. Instead, we get a provocative but not entirely coherent set of variations on the remnants of a character—the chastened ex-con at one point, the regretful father at another, the unrepentant trickster at yet another, weather-beaten mentor to the next generation of wheeler dealers, steely nihilist, etc., etc.

The spirit of contradiction in all that works well enough, especially in retrospect, but the film keeps edging Gekko toward the margins of its other stories—the burgeoning high-finance career of Jake Moore (Shia LaBoeuf) and his romance and courtship of Gekko’s estranged daughter Winnie (a mildly anguished Carey Mulligan). That results in a rather bland swath of melodramatic romance that provides passable entertainment while also diminishing the story’s potential for genuine dramatic bite.

LeBoeuf’s Jake Moore, nevertheless, is one of the film’s small coups, a nifty portrayal of a street-smart and not entirely heartless hustler, offered up perhaps as a more humane version of Gordon Gekko’s brash genius. Josh Brolin, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, Eli Wallach, and (in an unbilled cameo) Charlie Sheen all have pungent supporting roles that get somewhat lost in the swamp of the film’s dramatic meanderings.

Music by David Byrne and Brian Eno adds a curiously ambivalent note of nostalgia to the proceedings.