Of all the responses Oliver Stone might have wanted to greet his Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, I doubt that “So?” was among them. Unfortunately, that’s about the best I could muster at the end of the movie. Oh, it was entertaining while it was on screen, and Stone has lost none of the bombast and bluster that’s held him in good stead over the years. From first to last, this sequel to Stone’s 1987 Wall Street is clearly his work—at least in terms of style. I like that about Stone. If nothing else, his films have a personality. However, it’s a personality deeply allied with a humorless self-importance that is easy prey to the unintentionally funny and the hackneyed—all of which is in evidence here.
Stone’s 1987 film was intended as an indictment of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) and the whole predatory mind-set of his catchphrase, “Greed is good.” Stone was not unreasonably appalled to find people viewing Gekko as a kind of role model and taking the phrase to heart. So here he is 23 years later trying to rectify that. The idea may be noble, but it’s tied to a reasonably dumb—and utterly hackneyed—plot that’s obsessed with redeeming the irredeemable. Everything is pinned on one cardboard villain, and concludes with, yeah, we’re all on the Titanic, but what the hell—the impending birth of a baby trumps everything, especially since the good greedy folks have vanquished the greedy bad guy. Now, that’s pretty entertaining, but it’s spectacularly addle-brained, which, of course, is why it’s entertaining.
Here’s the pitch: Gekko (still Michael Douglas), fresh from a stretch in the big house, emerges into a new world with no one to greet him and where his perfidy is so passé that he seems like a bush leaguer. So what does he do? Well, he writes a book called Is Greed Good? and becomes a sensation on the talk-show, lecture and book-signing circuit for telling people that they’re all going to hell in a handbasket. Now, while all this is going on, we meet Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a young Wall Street hotshot, who is mentored by a grand old man of the stock exchange, Louis Zabel (grand old man of the movies Frank Langella).
Jake—somewhat improbably—is the romantic partner of none other than Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), estranged daughter of Gordon, who has somehow bamboozled herself into believing that Jake isn’t really a Wall Street hotshot, but a noble young fellow out to help get some alternative energy project off the ground. That’s kind of true—as evidenced by cutaways to Austin Pendleton as the worried scientist (we know he’s a scientist because he always wears a lab coat)—but that doesn’t keep Jake from being a major player. And he becomes even more of one when Grand Old Man Zabel is driven to do the Anna Karenina bit in front of a subway train. This, in turn, drives Jake to cozy up to Gordon in order to find out who was behind ruining Zabel.
Now, all this is complicated by the fact that Jake can’t let Winnie know that he’s dealing with Gordon, since she has disowned dad, blaming him for her junkie brother’s death. Why? Well, because Gordon was in the prison and wasn’t there to stop said brother from self-destructing. (The girl needs a good Al-Anon group.) Gordon, on the other hand, wants to reconnect with Winnie.
We also have the über bad guy (Josh Brolin), an even older grand old man (played by even older grand old man of cinema Eli Wallach), Jake’s hopeless real-estate speculating mom (Susan Sarandon), a Swiss bank account and even a bit part for good old Sylvia Miles as a realtor. It all either ties together or gets conveniently forgotten—and it doesn’t much matter which.
Entertaining? Well, yes, I won’t deny that. Most of the cast is fun, even if I still find Shia LaBeouf just spectacularly unpersuasive. The amassed plotting is amusing. But ultimately, it’s not really a good movie, and after thinking about it for a couple days, I have absolutely no idea what message Stone thinks he’s sending, but I’m pretty sure he still thinks greed is a bad thing. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and thematic elements.