Premise: A young financial whiz tries to take down one of the world’s biggest hedge funds from the inside.
About: This is of course the follow-up to the 1987 Oliver Stone film, “Wall Street.” Michael Douglas will reprise his role as Gordon Gekko. Shia LaBamBam will continue his streak of starring in every hot movie that’s being made. Vietnam vet Oliver Stone is back at the reigns, helming his most noteworthy picture since the invention of the personal computer.
Writer: Allan Loeb
This script has been burning a hole in my hard drive for months and to be honest, I was never going to review it. I was never a fan of the first film. It always felt to me like a movie that wanted to be better than it actually was. Of course, I was pretty young when I saw it. All I knew about the stock market was people yelling and throwing pieces of paper at each other. But I figured with the way the economy is wreaking havoc on our lives, Wall Street 2 might have something timely to say.
So I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is that Oliver Stone is directing the film. I have nothing against Mr. Stone. When he re-edited Alexander 18 times, I said ‘the more the merrier.’ Is Jared Leto gay? Is he not gay? There’s an app for that in the Alexander films. It’s just that the man hasn’t inspired confidence in awhile. The *good* news is that Alan Loeb is the writer. You may remember Alan from my review of The Only Living Boy In New York, a “Graduate”-like tale of a confused 20-something desperately trying to keep his life in order. I liked that script quite a bit, so I was intrigued to see what he would do with the Wall Street franchise (is it really a franchise now?)
Jacob Moore is pissed. Why is he pissed? Because someone just killed his boss. Well, that’s not entirely true. Someone started a rumor about his boss’ investment firm that eventually sank the company’s stock price, which led to the company going under, which led to the boss playing chicken with a subway train…and losing. Luckily, Jacob was given a 1.5 million dollar bonus just days earlier, enough to secure the most extravagant engagement ring money can buy for the woman he plans to spend the rest of his life with. “Take me to the Fuck You room,” he tells the jeweler.
You see Jacob’s stuck on the bubble. His boss was a bit of a father figure and after a few days away from Wall Street he’s beginning to think maybe it isn’t worth it. Why not dance off to a quaint little town in the middle of Americana and build a family? We’ll never know how close Jacob came to making that choice because Jacob’s fiance just happens to be the daughter of Gordon Gekko – yes, Michael Douglas’s character from the first film. Gekko got out of jail a few years back and spends his days broadcasting economic doom-and-gloom to anyone who will listen. He’s even got a new book explaining how the American economy is a time bomb waiting to explode. A little side note is that Gekko can ony talk about the economy. He can’t trade in it anymore. The SEC won’t let him within a hunred miles of a broker.
So when a still sore Jacob comes to Gekko for his blessing, Gekko calls him out. You don’t want my blessing, he tells Shia. You want advice on how to take down the man that “killed” your boss. Gekko makes a serious if contrived deal that only happens in Screenplay Land: He’ll help him take down the bad guys if Jacob helps him reestablish a relationship with his daughter. Jacob realizes this is a chance to learn from the best, get some revenge, and lose the audience.
The man who destroyed his boss’ fund is an eccentric billionaire hedge fund manager named Bretton Woods (gotta give it to Loeb – cool name). He’s the kind of guy that flies in the world’s biggest piano prodigy for some afternoon entertainment. He lives by the mantra: “The only thing worse than death is becoming irrelevant.” Gekko’s plan is for Jacob to get a job with Bretton, gain his trust, then make a whole bunch of bad trades that bankrupt his ass (my words, not his). Gekko will be advising him from the sidelines, telling him when and what to move.
Unfortunately this all plays out about as well as it sounds. The more contrived your story, the harder it is for the audience to buy into. Money Never Sleeps plays out like a dramatized version of today’s news headlines, giving us no new or behind-the-scenes information, and does so with a story that doesn’t have any bite. The face of the franchise, Michael Douglas, plays a neutered down role for 90% of the story, feeling more like an assistant coach than the power hungry face of the team.
It wasn’t lost on me that a movie all about money feels like a desperate attempt to make money. Just because you don’t have ninjas with a kung-fu grip on your poster doesn’t mean you’re cinematizing a story for a noble cause. I pose this question to you: Is this story worth telling? I don’t think I need to answer that question to answer it. Stone and Douglas clearly see this as a way to get back in the game. And that’s fine. Vin just did it with The Fast And The Furious franchise. But we all know what kind of movie results from a project without any passion behind it.
Luckily “Money Never Sleeps” has a saving grace. And that saving grace is its ending. Without giving too much away, a role that looked pretty thankless for Douglas comes roaring back up the charts like a hot stock. Loeb’s previous 105 pages were all a carefully constructed set-up to give us a shocker of a finale. And I have to admit, it worked. But the end result feels like a government bailout. Sure we feel okay now. But does it solve the underlying structural issues in the system? I’m afraid not. The best final 30 pages in history couldn’t have saved this sequel.
[ ] Bear Sterns
[ ] Hold
[ ] Buy
[ ] Gold
What I learned: You have to make the connections in your story as direct and personal as possible. Jacob’s doomed boss is not his *actual* father. He’s merely a father *figure*. Bretton didn’t kill Jacob’s boss. He started a rumor that led to the downfall of J’s boss’ company which led to his boss’ choice to commit suicide. The connections here are too loose. Imagine if the boss*was* Jacob’s father and that Bretton *actually* murdered him, but Jacob couldn’t prove it in court. So the only way to take him down was to work for Bretton and destroy him from the inside. Sure you’d have to figure out a reason why Bretton would hire him under those conditions, but it’s still doable. And because things were direct (murder) and personal (his father), we’d be so much more in to the Jacob revenge storyline.