Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin
Director: Oliver Stone
Midway through Oliver Stone's sequel to his seminal Wall Street, Gordon Gekko - the seemingly reconstructed ex-rogue trader who now proclaims 'the mother of all evil is speculation' - meets Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), the maker of his undoing in that first film in 1987.
While Gekko has changed - he's shed the Brylcreemed sleaziness of yore - Fox, beyond some added weight, looks like he hasn't. But he has: the erstwhile upstanding young hero who saved an airline and its workers from Gekko's asset-stripping claws has since made a fortune by reshaping the company and selling it off.
Much could have been made of Fox's eventual return to the profiteering game, but this film doesn't offer pessimism in the form of morally ambivalent characters. However much Gekko is allowed a line about how 'we're all mixed bags', Money Never Sleeps flounders because of its simplistic portrayal of the nature of the financial industry and the people working in it.
Combined with Stone's relentless exposition of glossary and morality, the follow-up film has failed to secure the bite which makes the first movie such a thrilling ride.
Money Never Sleeps begins with Gekko leaving jail in 2001 after finishing an eight-year sentence for fraud, but the story's main engine actually lies with Jacob (Shia LaBeouf), a young trader who wants his firm to invest in long-term renewable energy projects rather than get-rich-quick schemes involving deals with African tyrants with oil fields to spare. Not to stop there, Jacob will be marrying Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who runs an internet news portal. To further complicate (or simplify) the plot, she's Gekko's estranged daughter.
With such a set-up, there's really not much room for the severe moral dilemma tearing at Bud Fox in 1987, an element which generated the class-driven, father-and-son schisms that make Wall Street gripping drama.
This time, everyone's pretty much on the same side; the lone antagonist is Bretton James (Josh Brolin, above centre with LaBeouf and Douglas), a lame villain whose misdeeds are largely carried out with a coherent, epic purpose: he's seeking blood money from those who nearly killed off his career years ago. Still, there's a moral (if skewed) core in there - which can't be said of the profit-first amorality that has run wild in real-life high finance in the past two decades.
More problematic is that Stone can't deliver a story that will surprise cinemagoers who have witnessed the incredible, stranger-than-fiction meltdown of Wall Street during the past two years. Money Never Sleeps simply offers, among other things, a rehash of the collapse of trading firm Bear Stearns in 2008 and the crisis that followed. Rather than spinning something new, Stone simply weaves revenge and family-drama clich?s into the story.
What's more, Rodrigo Prieto's camerawork offers adoring views of New York's upper crust at play, and the vibrant editing and visual effects seem geared to make the financial wheeling and dealing sexy. Sadly, this only reveals that Stone's film lacks the critical faculty he professes to have towards the capitalist system.
In 1987, he showed the world that greed was good; now, he can only shape greed as mundane.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps opens today