Twenty-three years ago, Michael Douglas melted beautifully into the role of Gordon Gekko, the reptilian bad boy who ruled Oliver Stone's "Wall Street." It was the 1980s -- the age of excess -- and Gekko was the ultimate player, stalking the financial markets like a big-game hunter.
Douglas was almost hypnotic in the role, delivering his lines like full-blown sermons. "Greed ... is good," he declared. You couldn't keep your eyes off this villain in a necktie. And his menace was rewarded with an Oscar for best actor.
That was 1987. Apparently, Hollywood has no statute of limitations on sequels. Which brings us to "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."
When we left Gekko at the close of the 1980s, his former protégé (played by Charlie Sheen) had given him up to the feds on insider trading charges. Stone's sequel takes place in 2008. Gekko is out of prison but stripped of everything that made him a Wall Street tycoon. His hair has turned a shiny silver, wrinkles surround his eyes like fault lines and he has no money.
But he has the fortitude to write a book with a title that questions his very being -- "Is Greed Good?"
This reformed Gekko is an antihero of sorts to the young financial minions who dot the new Wall Street landscape, particularly Shia LaBeouf's Jacob, an energy trader for a large investment firm. Stone tells the story of the financial collapse through the eyes of Gekko and Jacob. Jacob's firm is based on Bear Stearns, the investment giant that was one of the first to burn in the financial system's meltdown. In the opening of "Money Never Sleeps," Jacob's mentor and boss (Frank Langella) commits suicide rather than face the impending cataclysm. Jacob blames his death and the crumbling of their company on a rival banker played with slithery glee by Josh Brolin.
Like some fairy godfather of the financial market, Gekko agrees to aid Jacob in his revenge plot. In exchange, the old master wants to be reunited with his estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who is engaged to Jacob.
Douglas, who will turn 66 this week, has a lot of fun stepping back into Gekko's shoes, but the character's comedic tone seems to suggest parody rather than grizzled wisdom. An aging, big-hearted Gordon Gekko isn't the only thing different about this overlong "Wall Street." Stone is a different filmmaker than he was two decades ago. The director was at the peak of his powers back then. He had just made "Platoon" and was flirting with a more frenetic (yet measured) visual style that would be fully realized in movies like "JFK."
"Wall Street" was simply an exhilarating piece of 1980s filmmaking. Stone's portrait of that era's corporate raiding was exciting, fun and morally ambiguous.
Here, however, his visual tricks are tired and random. He employs split-screen sequences without rhyme or reason. The ghost of Langella shows up in a truly laughable sequence. And then there's the music. Much of "Money Never Sleeps" is set to overripe elevator music. Where the movie would have benefited from a score that evoked a foreboding mood, Stone employs a soundtrack that could be interchanged with Katherine Heigl's next romantic-comedy. It's that off-putting.
Or maybe it's intentional. Eventually, Stone allows the squishy love story between Jacob and Winnie to take center stage. It's a mistake. The dramatic overplay of their relationship ends up taking the rest of the movie down with it.
This "Wall Street" needed less coddling and more cutthroat.
Tom Horgen • 612-63-7909