Oliver Stone has been described as ‘messianic’ and ‘visionary’, with films either radically liberal (South of the Border) or strangely conservative (World Trade Center). I prefer to think of his style as a sledgehammer made of sweet Peruvian cocaine (Alexander, Any Given Sunday), with the primary pleasure being the frappe of brain matter that hits the canvas with a splat.† Pick from the fruits of his labor, and you will find nary a moment of subtlety or wit. You will find metaphors tortured mercilessly, repetition of ideas for those too stoned to get them the first time, and a massive injection of vision too big for one vat-sized syringe. Unfortunately, with time and age that crazy head has atrophied, and Stone has exchanged his sweet,† sweet cocaine for a apathetically loaded shot of propofol.† Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is handsomely mounted but ultimately lazy, and is a waste of time for all involved who have not been paid.
Compare the original Wall Street with Money Something Something. For all its faults and excessively broad ideas, it was solid enough. Though the mechanisms of the market were bullshit, it captured the gist of a financial machine that was both unpredictable and easily manipulated. Individuals do not have the power the film suggested, unless they are the true players at the top, and even then they can be swept along by greater movements. The market serves itself, and those who grow wealthy on the rise and fall of stocks get paid for producing nothing while real companies, assets, and people are crushed in the mess left over. Gordon Gekko, adroitly portrayed by Michael Douglas as an amoral trader, became an icon to the apostles of Reagan. It had the straightforward aim of dramatizing the way fortunes of nonexistent wealth are made and unmade, and how companies can be torn to pieces to pay the tab at the end of the party. The sequel, ripped from yesterday’s headlines, is far less ambitious, unable to really articulate the machinations of tomorrow’s market. It is instantly dated and just as quickly forgettable.
Shia LeDouche plays some kid who is an energy trader who believes in green energy and is staking a company developing a fusion reactor that will make endless electricity by burning seawater. I don’t remember his name, but since Shia is a worse actor than Charlie Sheen, I’ll just call him Shia. Charlie gives the worst cameo ever, by the way, greeting Gekko with a frozen smile that suggests disastrous plastic surgery and a meth habit that would melt quartz. Awkward, hello and goodbye, and the moment is as pointless as this whole movie. This worked better in Hot Shots when Charlie and Martin Sheen passed each other in the Apocalypse Now gunboats with a “I loved you in Wall Street!” So Shia’s financial firm is about to take a bloody shit thanks to destabilizing rumors spread by Josh Brolin, an episode similar to when Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy in 2008. Brolin plays a figure similar to Henry Paulson, except he is still chair of his firm (a stand-in for Goldman-Sachs) instead of secretary of the treasury. Either way, he persuades the US Government to bail out his firm after Shia’s firm is allowed to die. The bailout money is tucked away, and this whole process would be intriguing if we did not just gorge ourselves on the same headlines last year. Strangely, none of this is made interesting, nor is there any vitriol directed at the Wall Street overlords who gamble using the same system as Pesci’s character in Casino. They lose, taxpayers pay via a socialist bailout. They win, it is a triumph of capitalism and the free market. In Wall Street: Money Does Stuff, this is just dramatic background for Shia’s decision to strike back at Brolin’s character. He then is offered a job, tries to use it to support his green energy project, gets fucked over like Bud Fox was for Blue Star Airlines in Part 1. This is a remake of an acceptable film. Awesome.
So we arrive at the reason for being for Wall Street2: Wall Streets – one Gordon Gekko. This should be a two hour money shot for Stone, but Gekko is the weak link here, like a vicious metaphor about metastatic throat cancer to an otherwise thoughtful review. Gekko is released from federal prison after an eight year stint, repentant for his insider theft while on top, and author of Is Greed Good? He is a paid speaker, and preaches that speculation is evil, and the unsustainable markets of today depend far too much on fake money and derivative products to survive. He does not explain how this is different from what he did, but this may be because it isn’t. The products are more obscure, and further distanced from any tangible thing you can buy than what once graced the markets, but that is about it. The drivers are, as he puts it, fear and panic. Such forces create bubbles (insert shots of kids playing with bubbles in the park while I sob quietly) which burst and somebody else cleans up the mess. There is some well written dialogue, and the anecdote about the 15th century Dutch tulip bubble was a nice touch. Ultimately, though, his character is inconsistent for reasons that I will explain as I spoil the living piss out the movie.
The moral fulcrum upon which Step Up 2 Tha Wall Street rests is the relationship between Shia and his girlfriend and Gekko, her father. And who really gives a shit, may I ask? Perhaps estranged fathers and the daughter left to spin on poles, but that sort of shit belongs in Very Special Episodes. Shia gets them together to have a tearful moment, then helps Gekko liberate her nest egg from a Swiss bank, and surprising nobody, daddy runs off with the cash and is reborn as Darth Vader. I guess this part is supposed to give us a rush of nostalgia, but I just didn’t give a fuck. Even if his whole repentant has-been act was just that, his character seems to say and do whatever the plot requires, including a last minute tearful moment of redemption. After becoming an overnight billionaire, he decides to give his daughter back her $100 million and invest in that green energy company and Shia and his girlfriend get back together and resume fucking. So the whole financial system of insolvent fake financial products sold on fear and threatening to destroy all we know takes a back seat to the sort of emotional reversal that occurred weekly on Family Ties.
Anyway, the reason to watch an Oliver Stone film is a rush of narrative insanity, not this whitebread horseshit. So everyone makes nice, and we forget that we are all fucked, and I guess the movie ends. At least I think it did, because I saw the credits roll. In the end, all I know is that Charlie Sheen is going in my next dead pool, and Shia will continue to get serious film roles as long as he has either a great agent or a bottomless throat with no gag reflex. Say what you want about Sheen’s non-acting, but at least he and Stone used to clean the same mirror, and gave me a reason to show up at the theater other than taking a healthy shit on the product.