By Aaron Mesh
It is an ancient stockbroker, and he stoppeth to shill a book.
The grizzled ex-tycoon is Gordon Gekko; his memoir, written after two decades in the clink, is titled Is Greed Good? Viewers of a certain temperament will find this peacocky and specious bout of rephrased backpedaling richly funny—when I did that insider trading, that might have been wrong, perhaps—and they will be rewarded throughout the 133 minutes of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps with loads more literal-minded bet-hedging.
Gekko is sincere, Michael Douglas is sincere and the sequel is sincere, although none of them is to be trusted. Of all the recent 1980s revivals, this one most carries the fervor of an evangelical tent meeting—its preaching will clarify everything that was perfectly clear in 1987. Imagine Brian De Palma making Scarface 2: Does Everybody Understand That Tony Montana Was Supposed to Be the Bad Guy?, and you have a pretty clear picture of what Oliver Stone has conceived.
Stone may be the most unabashedly bad American filmmaker working today. After the florid debacle of Alexander, he briefly retreated into the timidly bipartisan fare of World Trade Center and W. but, this year, with his Hugo Chávez apología South of the Border and this picture, he has recovered his moxie, if none of his early talent.
Money Never Sleeps is terrible, but energetically so: It is alive with ostentatious acting, ham-fisted symbolism, gaudy tastelessness and narrative confusion. It is an indictment of capitalism that pauses five minutes in the middle for a motorcycle race.
It has a love theme by David Byrne. It is so lousy you may wonder if Stone is doing it on purpose.
It certainly telegraphs its intentions, with dialectic montages that would make Eisenstein say, “On second thought, won’t that be a bit obvious?”
The collapse of mortgage-backed securities is depicted by cross-cutting between Manhattan skyscrapers and falling dominoes. Yet Stone is working from a screenplay that can’t manage to place any of its three main characters—Gekko, his estranged daughter (Carey Mulligan) or her floor-trader fiancé (Shia LaBeouf)—in the same room as any of the movie’s pivotal Federal Reserve Board scenes, even as passive observers.
Maybe Stone has stumbled onto a kind of bungling populist franchise, in which Gordon Gekko can appear at the fringes of financial scandals throughout history and smirk impishly. (I can’t wait for Wall Street: You Shall Not Crucify Mankind Upon a Cross of Gold.) But late in Money Never Sleeps, LaBeouf offers another in his series of voice-over clichés:
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
And there’s your movie. Step right up, folks!