Can’t rate its stock a good buy

‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’ only seems awake when the bad guys are in frame.

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - KEN­NETH TU­RAN FILM CRITIC

Greed may be good, as Gor­don Gekko in­sisted once upon a time, but evil pays the bills, at least as far as “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is concerned. The best parts of this un­fo­cused, er­ratic, down­right messy se­quel are the mo­ments when the bad peo­ple take cen­ter stage.

So let’s hear it for Josh Brolin’s Bret­ton (don’t even think of call­ing him Bret) James, an in­vest­ment banker with “an ego the size of Antarc­tica.” And some ap­plause for the fear­less 94year-old Eli Wal­lach’s Julie Stein­hardt, ter­ri­fy­ing when he makes ec­cen­tric bird noises and talks about the crash of ’29 and the end of the world. And we can’t for-

get Michael Dou­glas as Gekko Redux, at least in those mo­ments when the film al­lows him to be as bad as he ought to be.

For this ver­sion of “Wall Street” can’t make up its mind if Gekko is the bad-tothe-bone Lizard King he once was or some­one who’s seen the light, thank you very much, and is on the road to re­demp­tion. Or maybe he’s both. The trou­ble is, this is not an in­volv­ing enough en­ter­prise for us to work up the en­ergy to care.

As di­rected by a re­turn­ing Oliver Stone and writ­ten by Al­lan Loeb and Stephen Schiff, “Wall Street” sim­i­larly can’t de­cide if it’s a re­venge melo­drama, an at­tack on aber­rant Wall Street fi­nan­cial prac­tices, an in­fomer­cial for hy­dro­gen fu­sion or, that true Oliver Stone rar­ity, a touch­ing ro­mance. The film has more mov­ing parts than a pricey Rolex, and they are not all in sync.

The nom­i­nal ex­cuse for this se­quel is a chance to deal with the fac­tors that caused the re­cent global melt­down. But though the char­ac­ters glibly throw around terms like “credit de­fault swaps” and “toxic sub­prime debt,” the words are just win­dow dress­ing to give this pulpy ven­ture an air of rel­e­vance it doesn’t have.

Though it doesn’t al­ways know how to use him, “Wall Street’s” biggest as­set, as al­ways, is Dou­glas’ Gekko, rein­tro­duced get­ting out of prison in 2001and get­ting reac­quainted with an old mo­bile phone the size of a cin­der block. Times have changed, Mr. G, get with the pro­gram or be left be­hind.

Look­ing griz­zled as well as charis­matic, like a street per­son turned night­club im­pre­sario, Dou­glas is al­ways fun to watch, and he brings con­sid­er­able brio to the film as Gekko tries to rein­vent him­self as, of all things, a celebrity writer and all-around prophet of fis­cal doom.

Un­for­tu­nately, Gekko is gone from the screen for big chunks of this “Wall Street” and has to share billing and face time with his co-pro­tag­o­nists, a young hot­shot trader named Jake Moore, played by Shia LaBeouf, who just hap­pens to live with GG’s es­tranged daugh­ter, played by Carey Mul­li­gan.

Di­rec­tor Stone has said that LaBeouf re­minds him of a young Tom Cruise, but it is un­likely any­one else will see the re­sem­blance. The film is at pains to paint his char­ac­ter as one tough hom­bre, com­plete with mo­tor­cy­cle-rid­ing chops, but Jake comes off more like a striv­ing pip­squeak than a pres­ence to be re­spected.

That cen­tral weak­ness cre­ates a black hole in the film that sucks a lot of en­ergy out of the pro­ceed­ings. Es­pe­cially ham­pered is Mul­li­gan, so lu­mi­nous in “Never Let Me Go” and so al­tered here. Yes, it can’t be much fun to be both the Gekkster’s daugh­ter and the head of a lib­eral web­site, but it’s too bad the film seems to man­date that Win­nie Gekko al­most never has a nice day.

“Wall Street’s” plot, such as it is, has young Jake seek­ing out Gekko as a men­tor af­ter his orig­i­nal fa­ther fig­ure, an old-school in­vest­ment banker named Louis Za­bel (a pleas­antly en­er­getic per­for­mance from Frank Lan­gella) meets an un­for­tu­nate end that Jake wants to avenge.

Gekko agrees, but, like ev­ery devil, he has his price: He wants Jake to clan­des­tinely help him en­gi­neer a rap­proche­ment with the glum Win­nie, who has writ­ten her dad out of her life and has no in­ter­est in let­ting him back in.

As if that wasn’t enough to keep our young man busy, he’s also try­ing to keep afloat both a hy­dro­gen fu­sion en­ter­prise headed by the wor­ried Dr. Masters (a mis­cast Austin Pendle­ton) and his own spend­thrift mother (a badly used Su­san Saran­don), who has wan­dered un­wisely into real es­tate spec­u­la­tion. So many crises, so lit­tle charisma. If the bad guys didn’t reap­pear with wel­come reg­u­lar­ity, “Money Never Sleeps” would be even more of a snooze than it al­ready is. ken­neth.tu­ran@latimes.com

Barry Wetcher

MEN­TOR: Jake (Shia LaBeouf) wants help from Gor­don (Michael Dou­glas), whose daugh­ter he dates.

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