NEW YORK –– With a magnetic performance by Michael Douglas – reprising his role as iconic, scruples-free wheeler-dealer Gordon Gekko – offset by heavy-handed attempts at social commentary and a central romantic relationship that puts the sexual cart before the marital horse, the high stakes drama “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (Fox) makes for an uneven sequel.
Yet, throughout a somewhat over-lengthy series of plot twists, director Oliver Stone’s follow-up to his 1987 hit “Wall Street” consistently affirms anti-materialist, broadly pro-family and even – implicitly at least – pro-life values that viewers of faith will find congenial.
Screenwriters Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff pick up the story with the disgraced Gekko’s 2001 release from prison. Having done his time for securities fraud, the ex-big shot finds no one, and nothing, waiting for him on the outside.
Jump forward seven years and Gekko has become a successful author and an accurate prophet of impending collapse whose best-seller’s title asks, in a play on his famous mantra from the first film, “Is Greed Good?”
Joining the audience for one of Gekko’s publicity appearance – at New York’s Jesuit-run Fordham University – is current financial high flyer Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf). Jake’s interest in Gekko is personal as well as professional since he has been living with, and has just become engaged to, Gekko’s estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan).
Gekko is anxious to reconcile with Winnie, who blames him for her drug-addicted brother’s death from an overdose. He finds a willing partner in Jake, and the two make a deal: Jake will work to soften Winnie’s feelings toward Dad, and Gekko will assist Jake in his business vendetta against ruthless mogul Bretton James (Josh Brolin).
As partially revealed in earlier scenes, Bretton’s stealthy machinations led to the ruin both of Jake’s firm and of its founder – also Jake’s beloved mentor – Louis Zabel (Frank Langella).
Jake sincerely believes that Winnie will benefit from her father’s renewed presence in her life and, lacking Louis’ support, he is himself in search of a paternal figure to whom he can turn for guidance. But he gets more than he bargained for out of his arrangement with Gekko, realizing too late that Gekko’s plaintive identification of Winnie as “all I have left” has more than one meaning.
Perhaps even more so than in the first installment, Douglas’ Gekko is a fascinating compound of charisma, corruption and a few remaining shards of human decency. While his plea that the hi-jinks of Bretton and his ilk – supposedly modeled on real life excesses – are far worse than anything he ever attempted may be blatantly self-serving, a variety of developments demonstrate that Gekko’s time behind bars has brought about at least a partial conversion.
This second “Wall Street” succeeds best when it maintains that kind of sharp focus on the personal, but feels bloated and ineffective when it pans out to make sweeping indictments of complex patterns of economic behavior that, however disastrous their consequences, defy easy analysis.
The film contains cohabitation, brief sexual imagery and occasional sexual references, several uses of profanity, at least two instances of rough language and a few crude and some crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service. More reviews are available online.