The once-fearless Oliver Stone seems a little scared of himself and his subject in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
Rather than shredding those most responsible for the recent financial crisis, Stone creates convoluted arguments about the causes and possible solutions, all while trying to give us a kinder, gentler Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).
I need a kinder, gentler Gordon Gekko like I need a Halloween movie in which Michael Myers gives candy and smiles to teenagers rather than disemboweling them.
The film begins in 2002, as a weary Gekko leaves prison after serving eight years for money-related crimes. Nobody is there to greet him at the gate, and he holds an antiquated portable phone.
Cut to 2008, and Gekko is promoting a book, renting a ritzy Manhattan apartment and trying to re-enter the life of his estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Winnie is engaged to young broker Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), who really wants to be rich, but he has a conscience: He wants to get a lot of money so he can help finance a new experiment in fusion-energy technology.
This is a lame way to make him virtuous.
Jake sees Gekko giving a speech about the current state of the economy, in which he offers a cute spin on his famous line—"Greed is good!"—by saying, "Greed is good ... now, it seems it's legal."
When was greed ever illegal? Yes, greed has inspired many an illegal act, but greed itself was never illegal the last time I checked. No authorities showed up on my porch trying to bust me for wanting a boat. (I don't have a porch, nor do I want a boat, but that's not important right now.)
Jake introduces himself to Gekko as his future son-in-law, unbeknownst to Winnie, and they form some sort of alliance in which Jake tries to help Gekko reconcile with his daughter, while Gekko advises Jake on how to avenge the death of his mentor, Louis (Frank Langella). Louis decided to make out with an oncoming train after the evil Bretton James (Josh Brolin) helped destroy his banking firm.
I was about halfway into the film when I realized Stone was wimping out. The screenplay offers generally negative talk about the current state of global economic affairs, but never truly focuses on anything. Stone spends most of the movie showing us the Gekko family drama—and, seriously, who gives a crap?
The true travesty comes when Stone teases viewers with a possible sinister Gekko twist—one that would have made the movie so much better—but then pulls back. Instead, Stone offers warm, fuzzy redemption for Gekko. Sure, bad people can write checks and get out of trouble all the time, but Stone does nothing to illustrate how despicable this is. International film audiences have grown to love Mr. Douglas in the 23 years since the original came out, and Stone seems to think we can't accept him as a complete monster.
And nuts to the scene in which Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) shows up at some benefit that Gekko is attending, resulting in a nice, jovial conversation. Gekko acts like he's just bumped into a beloved member of his high school football team—not the guy who infiltrated his camp and started his legal troubles. Come on, Oliver! Gekko could've at least thrown a drink in Fox's face before making nice.
Throw this in the bin with unnecessary sequels like Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and Lethal Weapon 4. (You know, the one in which Mel Gibson and Danny Glover had some sort of psychic connection.) The joy of seeing Douglas back in perhaps his most infamous role is ruined, because Oliver Stone wimps out and continues to deteriorate as a director.