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Movie Review: 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps' falls short of its predecessor

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“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”

Directed by: Oliver Stone
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, Eli Wallach, Austin Pendleton
Rated: PG-13

“I'll make a deal with you. You stop telling lies about me and I'll stop telling the truth about you.”

So says Gordon Gekko, the anti-hero of Oliver Stone's two “Wall Street” films, to the smarmiest financial player to ever ooze onto the screen, Bretton James.

A funny thing happened with Stone's original “Wall Street” which was filmed in early 1987, the year the stock market crashed on “Black Monday,” October 19th. Stone and co-writer Stanley Weiser had based their story on the insider trading scandals of 1985 and seemed to offer it as a cautionary tale. Instead, some of the more cynical-beyond-their-years young traders on Wall Street used Gordon Gekko's “greed is good” philosophy as a blueprint for their own business practices and ethics.

And now, 23 years later, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” comes at a time following one of the most troublesome and controversial chapters in Wall Street's history.

As Stone's new film opens, it's 2001 and we see Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) being released from prison where he's done time for insider trading and other monetary malfeasances. The best part of this scene is when Gekko is getting his belongings from the prison guard and we see the gigantic - by today's standards - cell phone that was state of the art when Gordon went in, eight years earlier.

The film jumps ahead a few years; Gekko has published a book criticizing the state of Wall Street. It's a warning and also an attempt to somehow slightly redeem himself from his “greed is good” days.

He's not living the high life he once did but is doing OK and has a lot of fans in the stock trading business.

One of those admirers is the young go-getter, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf). Jake loves making money, but he also has a social conscience. He tries to get his superiors at his investment firm - run by the old school and ethical Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) - to invest heavily in an energy company working on nuclear fusion, a very clean way to generate electricity. Theoretically.

Oh, yeah, and Jake is also living with Gordon's estranged daughter and has proposed marriage to her.

Behind her back, Jake arranges a meeting with Gordon and strikes up a (somewhat uneasy) friendship with him.

Jake's company takes a bad hit, manipulated by a rival firm. Louis, Jake's mentor, meets a grisly end.

So then the kid starts getting serious. Jake wants to exact revenge on the man he is sure was behind the shenanigans that ruined the company and brought about his friend's death.

That man is Bretton James (Josh Brolin). This character makes Gordon Gekko look genteel. “Unctuous” is too kind a word.

Jake gets a job working for Bretton's firm with the sole intent of having the investment house come crashing down.

While dealing with that lofty goal, Jake also is trying to keep his scientist friend going in the nuclear fusion business, trying to get his fiance and her dad on good terms again and dealing with his mom - played by Susan Sarandon - who is a very bad real estate agent constantly needing to borrow money from her son, which Jake is quickly running short of.

The first two acts have their moments, but “Money Never Sleeps” is a bit slow until Act 3. It's by far the most engaging 45 minutes of the film and features a few surprises that need to be experienced first hand for maximum movie pleasure. So no spoilers here.

Stone has never been known as a subtle director; “JFK” was a conspiracy theorist's dream, “The Doors” managed to alienate every fan of that legendary band who are still waiting for a definitive biopic and “Natural Born Killers” befuddled as many viewers as it angered.

But without a doubt, the director has his own vision and style and mines from the best and worst aspects of it in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” The best parts are with Douglas as Gekko and seeing how that character has developed.

This sequel is not as good as its predecessor. But it's not as bombastic as Stone has been before, and the subject matter is as scary as it is timely. We and generations to come are going to be feeling the fiscal aftershocks of the myriad sins of investment schemes and scams that went haywire, perpetrated by companies deemed “too big to fail,” whose principal leaders are still getting their multimillion dollar bonuses at the taxpayers' expense. So in some ways, this film is a modern horror classic.[[In-content Ad]]

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