WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS, Directed by Oliver Stone, written by Allen Loeb and Stephen Schiff, 130 minutes, rated PG-13.
It’s that rare movie that commands an iconic line, something that is so prescient and nails the culture to its core, it not only defines it, but it also wedges itself into pop-culture lore. So it was in 1987 when Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) spoke the words that would define a period and a generation: “Greed is good.”
Unfortunately, a lot of people took that to heart. And now, 23 years later, we apparently have left the throes of a devastating recession, at least that’s what economists are saying, and come to the other side in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
Once again, Oliver Stone directs, this time from Allen Loeb and Stephen Schiff’s script. The movie they created is brisk and entertaining, but also peppered with shallow insights and canned redemption. It never surpasses its predecessor. And there’s the sense that Stone knew he’d fail if he tried. So, what do we have here? A scattered, heavy-handed movie that’s so ripe, it occasionally bursts.
The film features Douglas’ return as Gekko, and he’s the best part of the movie, overshadowing everyone around him. He owns this role. He understands this might offer him the comeback his career needs, provided he beats his current battle with throat cancer, and so he goes for it, which gives the movie the seething spark it needs to counter Stone’s rampant preaching about the past.
Recently released from prison for money laundering, racketeering and fraud, Gekko is a mystery to be solved. Who is he now? What are his motivations? After all these years in prison (the film begins with his release in 2001 and then quickly takes place in the financial nightmare that was 2008), is he a reformed man? Or has he spent his time paying attention to the market and learning how to manipulate the bubble now?
His daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan, wholly underused) is convinced he can’t be trusted — she shields herself from him. But as for Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), who plans to marry Winnie, he’s not quite sure. There’s something about Gekko that appeals to him, which leads to all sorts of turmoil. What can be said is that the introduction of Josh Brolin’s Bretton James, a slimy investment banker, leaves something to be desired. He’s here to play the villain, which allows Stone the chance to stockpile his character with depth and intrigue. Instead, we get cliches, which Brolin’s catcher’s mitt of a face tries to absorb and sometimes succeeds.
In the end, “Money Never Sleeps” is a mixed bag of the good and the awful. Every performer goes for it here, including rich cameos by Susan Sarandon and Frank Langella. But the pacing is off. The movie is an overstuffed pinata. And the ending is so drunk on clotted ribbons of sentiment, they form a noose. Still, while uneven, the movie does have energy and a few scenes do shine, such as when Gekko and Jake form an agreement to help each other out. Jake will receive trading tips from Gekko, but to get them, he will need to help Gekko win back his daughter.
The lot of it is pure melodrama, but as any fan of melodrama knows, if you have a talented cast willing to throw themselves headfirst into the cinematic blender, that melodrama can be as captivating as it is cheap. Grade: B-
On DVD and Blu-ray disc
THE BLACK DAHLIA, Blu-ray
From Brian De Palma, this debauchery of James Elroy’s book misinterprets the underpinnings of noir, amplifies elements that should have remained nuances, and turns the production into an overbearing joke. The movie is based on the legendary Hollywood murder in which 22-year-old Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) came to Tinseltown in search of fame and fortune but instead found death and dismemberment. While there are some pleasures to be had in the camp the movie courts, it’s unlikely that unintentional laughter is what De Palma was seeking, though it’s nevertheless what he gets. With Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank and a sorely miscast Scarlett Johansson, the film’s tin dialogue clangs throughout, with the confused plot joining the phony performances in failing to come through. Rated R. Grade: C-
ROBIN HOOD, DVD, Blu-ray
The best thing that can be said about Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” is that it wasn’t presented in 3D. You can just imagine the horror of Russell Crowe’s ego flying at you from the screen. Unfortunately, the film skirts that cliche to embrace another — it’s yet another Hollywood reboot, one that huffs and puffs to right itself beneath the bloat of its own weight. Here is a movie stripped of any sense of humor or wit. While nobody coming to it will expect the far-out absurdity of “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” it’s not out of the question to think that they might have hoped for something close to Errol Flynn’s take on the tale. But forget it. There is no flight-of-fancy swashbuckling here, no glimmer that anyone came to have a good time. This is a meat-and-potatoes version, caked in violence, blood and mud, swallowed down with a few gallons of mead, and then belched onto the screen in some kind of manly overture. Set in 12th century England, the film is grim and mostly flat, with the occasional fight sequence staged to break up the monotony. Since Scott treats his movie as an origins story, we thus need to slog through reams of exposition about how the commoner Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) became the epic Robin Hood of lore. If this makes it sound as if Scott is treating his movie as a superhero movie, it’s because he is. We get every bit of the back story — and then some — before the movie turns to the film’s present and finds Robin returning from the Third Crusade, still good with an arrow but crushed by the death of King Richard the Lionhearted (Danny Huston). Since what ensues is dense, let’s throw it all in a boiling pot and reduce it to its essence: Richard’s death ignites within Robin a need to continue his fight, and so circumstances lead him to assemble an army to bring down the French. Meanwhile, Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett) has lost her husband, might lose her land, has a mild flirtation with Robin, grimaces on cue and —channeling her inner feminist — takes a sword of her own to fight the good fight against Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is the film’s chief villain. Onward it goes, and yet where’s the momentum? Some scenes rise to the occasion, but with the exception of the film’s last five minutes, when Crowe finally flashes a smile, this “Robin Hood” is a frowning, brooding bust at best. Rated PG-13. Grade: C-
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog. Smith’s film reviews appear Fridays in Lifestyle, and his video movie previews appear Wednesdays in the Lifestyle section of bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.