September 22, 2010

Sequels that attempt to catch lightning in a bottle a couple of decades down the track usually have a pretty rough go of it, especially when the original was an iconic piece of work – think of the little-seen follow-ups to Chinatown or The Godfather, for instance.

But a 21st century take on Oliver Stone’s 1987 high-finance melodrama Wall Street and its compelling central character, stock-market shark Gordon Gekko? That could work, right?

After all, an economy in turmoil thanks to the global financial crisis would provide a terrific arena in which Gekko and his sparring partners could do battle.

Despite a timely and dramatically-intriguing backdrop, however, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a bad investment. Whereas the original film had both blazing energy and a fierce sense of integrity, this tale of monetary malfeasance is soppy and spineless.

What’s worse, it’s preachy. Stone has never been shy about imparting a message in his films but he often did so with such vitality and passion that you felt swept up rather than lectured to.

That’s certainly not the case with Money Never Sleeps, which all but wags its finger at its audience as it promotes the virtues of family life and clean energy over the appeal of filthy lucre.

It’s a valid point, sure. But this movie’s unwieldy screenplay (which Stone had no hand in) and fussy direction impart it with neither finesse nor ferocity.

That’s not to say that Money Never Sleeps is a total dud.

Indeed, when it steers away from the money markets and focuses on the efforts by Gekko (Michael Douglas), released from prison after eight years, to make amends with his estranged daughter Winnie (An Education’s Carey Mulligan), it’s often moving and insightful.

And the tense battle of wills between Winnie’s fiancé, idealistic broker Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf), and ruthless tycoon Bretton James (Josh Brolin, the movie’s best asset) is well-played by the two actors.

But the handful of scenes that work can’t compensate for the many that feel predictable or pointless.

Still, it’s a pleasure to see Douglas reprising his Oscar-winning role as Gekko, one that fits the actor like a well-cut suit.

And this latter-day incarnation of the character – chastened by his downfall but still charismatic and commanding, and definitely nobody’s fool – allows Douglas to demonstrate the range of his abilities.

Along with LaBeouf (who acquits himself well), the gifted Mulligan and the excellent Brolin (who brings a terrific mix of elegance and menace to his characterisation), Douglas gives Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps a sense of power and purpose. It’s too bad the rest of the movie can’t match it.