“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is something of a rarity: a sequel produced 23 years after the original. The same director (Oliver Stone) and marquee actor (Michael Douglas) are involved, and the plot is basically the same, though the characters have changed considerably.
So, unfortunately, has Stone’s directorial self-control, what there was of it. The guy who wrote and directed “Wall Street,” as well as such memorable films as “Platoon” and “Born on the Fourth of July,” throws in every cinematic trick in the book here. But the result is a mishmash of inconsistency and, at points, sheer opacity. Unless you are, like Stone, the son of a stockbroker and/or intimately versed in the language and operations of investment banking, you’d be well advised to do some homework before attending this movie. Reading up on the circumstances and causes of The Great Recession wouldn’t hurt, either.
Oh, you can understand the basics of the story readily enough, especially if you’ve just rented the original “Wall Street.” That way you’ll recognize some of the characters from the original who turn up in cameos here, such as Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), who seems to have survived and prospered. You might recall that young Bud was instrumental in sending his mentor, Gordon Gecko (Douglas) to prison back in the Regan Era when, to quote Gordon, “Greed was good.”
The film opens in 2001, as Gecko emerges from federal prison with $1,810.63 to his name, gold watch, an empty money clip, and a mobile phone that resembles an end-of-summer zucchini. Nobody is there to meet him: his wife and son are dead, and his surviving child, Winnie (Carey Mulligan) wants no part of him. He’s grey, grizzled, and gaunt.
Cut to 2008, and Gordo has come out with a book, which he is in the process of hustling. He retains the same conman charm but claims that he’s a changed man. Watching him speak, his daughter’s live-in boyfriend and upwardly mobile Wall Streeter, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), conceives a plan to reunite father and child, with initially disastrous results. Much of the rest of the film deals with this triad, including some fine scenes between Douglas and Mulligan. But the outcome is deeply unsatisfying and mushy.
But Jake also has a scheme to bring down his own mentor’s destroyer. Wall Street kingpin Bretton James (Josh Brolin) has helped engineer the downfall and fire sale of a rival run by Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), who subsequently throws himself in the path of a subway train. It takes a while, but Jake eventually loses the girl, gets the girl, and obtains his revenge, the plot playing out by the Hollywood numbers. Oh, and he gets a lotta cash, too, greed evidently not being so bad after all, our nation’s current misery notwithstanding.
Stone throws in lots of visual gewgaws to cover up the essential triteness and muddiness of the movie, and he dresses it up with metaphors. (Watch for soap bubbles.) He also enlists a small legion of actors and TV personalities in cameos—Susan Sarandon, Eli Wallach, and most of the onscreen folk of CNBC—to give the movie some realism and gravitas. Watching for them makes the 133 minutes pass enjoyably enough, but it doesn’t make the movie itself any better.
“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is rated “PG-13,” primarily for language. I’m guessing that anyone under 25 and lacking an M.B.A. will find the proceedings impenetrable and, well, dull.