Andy Bockelman: ‘Wall Street’ sequel sees slight drop in stocks

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”

2.5 out of 4 stars

127 minutes

Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin and Carey Mulligan.

Now playing at the West Theatre.

For an actor, returning to a famous character can sometimes work out well, as in the case of Paul Newman in “The Color of Money,” or be an unmitigated disaster, as in Al Pacino in “The Godfather Part III.”

But, sometimes such a venture can result in being perfectly in the middle, like the star of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”

Investment banker Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is a prodigy in the financial world. Earning a seven figure paycheck at one of New York’s most prestigious firms and coming home to his loving girlfriend, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), 2008 looks to be a very good year for him.

Or, at least it did until the economic crisis caught up with everyone in his business, leaving his longtime mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), in ruins thanks to the machinations of fellow investment powerhouse Bretton James (Josh Brolin).

But, Jake isn’t out of ideas on how to get ahead in the rat race, having a personal connection with one of the biggest rats in the game.

His girlfriend’s estranged father is Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), recently released from his prison sentence for insider trading, now making a living as a best-selling author exposing the ins and outs of the money world.

But, Gordon hasn’t renounced the gospel of greed — he just isn’t praising it as vocally. As he takes Jake under his wing, they arrange a deal wherein Gordon can help Jake get back on his feet and in return, Jake can get Winnie talking to her father again.

However, even as Jacob’s career takes off once again, it becomes more and more apparent that his new adviser is hardly anymore trustworthy than he was before he went to prison.

Even with hair tinged with gray, Douglas’s return to the slicked-back look that made him famous speaks just as much for Gekko’s inner personality as it did in 1987.

The power-hungry stare and callous smirk haven’t changed a bit, even if he claims to have cleaned up his act.

And, even in a market where his enormous 1980s cell phone is obsolete, he knows just how to get what he wants.

LaBeouf is alright, but too vulnerable as Jake, who’s tough to figure out. While he has noble goals like raising money for alternative fuel, his “money is all that matters” attitude just doesn’t seem to fit. Mulligan just makes more sense in her simple approach to Winnie, a humanitarian who wants to do everything she can to avoid becoming like dear old dad.

Brolin gives a strong showing as industry titan James, whose sense of morals and decency in his work can be summed up in the artwork hanging in his office: Francisco Goya’s black painting “Saturn Devouring His Son.”

But, not everyone in the industry is so unethical and short-sighted, as evidenced by Eli Wallach as investment mainstay Jules Steinhardt, whose predictions about the economy come from experience, being old enough to have been alive for the stock market crash of 1929.

Familiar terms like “bailout,” “bubble” and “too big to fail” are bandied about quite a bit in director Oliver Stone’s retelling of recent history.

The central flaw is like his last feature, “W.” This is a commentary on topics that are still happening and evolving at rates that are too complicated to determine.

Stone drives this point home with an insistence in making viewers multitask, as he frequently infuses digital stock tickers and split-screen phone conversations into the action. In that same vein, the characters, particularly Jake, are always multitasking, whether it’s glancing at five different computer monitors at once or talking on the Bluetooth headset built into his motorcycle helmet.

What the story comes down to is what it has to say about the mindset of people in the financial world.

This is by far its weakest point as Gekko, one of the most understated movie villains of the last 25 years, becomes needlessly humanized. Everyone in this film is far too emotional, whether they’re in the office or not, and the sentiment, “It’s not personal, it’s just business,” doesn’t seem to exist.

Drawing on the inspiration of its predecessor, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is, for lack of a better word, good.

But, it isn’t great.

It capitalizes on a poignant subject at the right time, but it never delivers the kind of commentary it needs to make it worthwhile, hampered all the more by a majority of characters who are weak and whiny.

It’s a shame that Douglas, who came off as a vicious shark in the original “Wall Street,” now more closely resembles a sneaky eel. It fits, but it just isn’t the same.

Now playing at the West Theatre.

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