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'Wall Street' sequel's familiar territory

Article Published: Sep. 30, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Wall Street' sequel's familiar territory

From left, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin and Michael Douglas star in 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. '

In Oliver Stone's 1987 film, Wall Street, stock trader/sleaze incarnate Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas in an Oscar-winning role) delivers the film's famous tagline, "Greed is good."

It's only mediocre in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Just like the 23-year gap between the original and its sequel, Money Never Sleeps takes its time getting to the point.

Benefiting from Stone's sturdy direction and Rodrigo Prieto's (Brokeback Mountain) cinematography, Money's high on style and texture, but low on substance - surprising, considering the palette with which Stone had to paint his picture: The economic nose-dive of 2008.

But Money's not so much a financial drama as it is a melodrama, set amid the reeling financial crisis. In a sense, the crisis is a character, but secondary to the plight of the film's leads, who are caught in the common "love corrupted by money" predicament. In other words, it's nothing new.

The film opens with Gekko (Douglas) being released from prison, wizened from his time served for the insider trading that landed him there in the first place.

In the 21st century, insider trading seems more like petty theft compared to the multi-billion-dollar financial misdeeds of Wall Street's banking titans, a fact not lost on Gekko, who, with only his '80s wardrobe, empty money clip and massive cellular phone to his name, pens a cautionary tell-all and works the collegiate lecture circuit.

Attending one of his lectures is Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf, Transformers), an up-and-coming trader who witnessed firsthand the demise of his lending house, along with its founder and his mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon).

Captivated by Gekko's foreboding words on a new generation's fiscal future, Jake, now jobless, turns to Gekko. Fortunately, and quite conveniently, Jake is engaged to Gekko's estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan, An Education), and the two strike a deal:

Gekko will help Jake discover who's behind the rumors that left Zabel's firm in ruins, while Jake will help Gekko reestablish a relationship with his daughter.

Naturally, nothing's as simple as it seems.

Zabel's downfall could be linked to the shady dealings of hedge-funder Bretton James (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men), sort of an uber-Gekko of the 21st century. Meanwhile, Winnie's more than reluctant to reconnect with her father, warning Jake that Gekko's so-called rehabilitation is simply another means to an end - which could prove disastrous for her and Jake's relationship.

What follows is a morality tale as old as time, but that's not to say the actors don't make the best of it.

Douglas hasn't lost a beat as Gordon Gekko, maintaining the subdued menace that made his character a cinematic icon, while LaBeouf effectively portrays a good-intentioned protagonist mired in moral ambiguity.

At the center is Stone's theme of moral hazards - misusing other people's money - on the grand and personal scales, also delving into not-so-subtle metaphor on trust and relationships.

The film brinks on moral hazard itself, however, misusing its copious talent and a setting that couldn't be more perfect. And while its presentation is sleek and shiny, Money's meandering story and return to familiar territory make this sequel a questionable investment.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, rated PG-13 for brief strong language and thematic elements, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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