As opportunistic, decades-later sequels go, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps makes a bit more sense than most. Just what would Gordon Gekko make of the current global economic meltdown? Oliver Stone has decided, not without reason, that the corporate raider who once proclaimed that “greed is good” would now be appearing on talk shows to promote his new book, Is Greed Good? And Stone has persuaded Michael Douglas, who won an Oscar the first time around as Gekko, to reprise his signature performance, even if the actor frequently looks more like his rumpled character in Wonder Boys. (Apparently one needs to make tens of millions of dollars to afford hair gel.)
Unfortunately, Stone has also repeated the mistake he made in the original Wall Street: namely, having Gekko play a supporting role—much smaller this time—to an idealistic young finance whiz whose crisis of conscience never really catches fire. Replacing Charlie Sheen (who has a brief, amusing cameo here) in that capacity is Shia LaBeouf as Jake Moore, a dapper hotshot convinced that he can make a tidy fortune promoting clean energy—get rich and save the world. Jake also happens to be engaged to Gekko’s estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan). When the two men finally meet, what begins as Jake’s attempt to broker a rapprochement turns into the expected power struggle, as Gekko’s hair gel suddenly reappears.
Stone has never been known for his subtlety, but Money Never Sleeps plays so broadly at times, what with its dopey visual metaphors (cut from a portentous speech on financial bubbles to little kids blowing actual bubbles on a playground) and its goofy overacting (Josh Brolin, as a subsidiary villain, does what can only be called a double-take gasp), that it might as well be a cartoon. Half of the movie amounts to stern finger-wagging about leveraged debt, and the other half finds poor Gekko so neutered that he’s reduced to dispensing fatherly advice. For all the jabbering about moral hazards and renewable energy sources, it feels as much like empty calories as do many recent superhero pictures.