When director Alfred Hitchcock popped up for signature silent cameos in his films, they were always fast and fleeting. A couple times we merely glimpsed his distinctive hefty silhouette — and, once, in “Lifeboat,” he appeared only in before-and-after photos illustrating a weight-reduction product advertised in a newspaper that a shipwrecked character was reading. (Here's a fascinating rundown on all 37 of Hitchcock’s cameos.)
Contrast that with Oliver Stone, who shows up twice, speaking multiple lines, in his latest, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
Hitchcock clearly valued subtlety, a quality as alien to Stone as celibacy is to rabbits.
Stone’s blink-and-he’s-still-there cameo is indicative of his whole approach to this film, a belated and somewhat bloated sequel to his own 1987 “Wall Street.” His seeming guiding philosophy: Why use a trowel when you’ve got a shovel handy?
Which is not to say that his films can’t be entertaining in a slickly amped-up, coming-straight-at-you kind of way. The first “Wall Street” certainly was, and there were pleasures to be had watching “Platoon,” “Nixon,” “Any Given Sunday” and even “The Hand.” (“Natural Born Killers” and “Alexander,” not so much.)
“Money Never Sleeps” begins promisingly, with its sleek visions of Manhattan’s moneyed corridors and with the once omnivorous dealmaker Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, reprising his Oscar-winning role) now seemingly chastened after a term in the pokey. Having done eight years in jail, he is living in a rental apartment, riding the subway, and hawking a book whose title, “Is Greed Good?,” is an inversion of his signature declamatory motto from the first film.
Stone has smartly set the movie in 2008, just as Wall Street’s latest derivative-fueled bubble bursts (the fall-out from which the rest of us are still suffering). The movie’s young hero, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), is an ambitious investment guy looking to make his fortune by investing in new energy forms. His live-in girlfriend (Carey Mulligan), a crusading journalist working at a fledgling web site, is the daughter of Gekko, from whom she is estranged.
Moore attends a lecture given by Gekko, who is now calling for the reform of Wall Street and decrying many of the financial practices that will soon bring Big Money to its knees. Moore introduces himself to Gekko, thinking it’s time his girlfriend and her father reconciled. Gekko, while claiming to want the same thing, also intends to use Moore to undermine an old business rival (Josh Brolin), whom Gekko believes was responsible for sending him to jail.
All fine and good — and even fun — until, about halfway through, the movie becomes less about the art of the deal and the steal and more a turgid romantic soap opera with an unconvincing LaBeouf at its center.
If there was ever a case of miscasting hurting a movie, this is it. Yes, Charlie Sheen (who turns up for an amusing cameo in “Money Never Sleeps”) was only 21 when he made the original “Wall Street,” but there was always an on the make, cleaned-up Sammy Glick kind of quality about him that made him convincing in the role.
At 24, LaBeouf looks like he’s 15 and still has to shave only every third day. You keep expecting the whole thing to turn into a John Hughes film, say “Ferris Bueller’s Day on Wall Street.”
What does make “Money Never Sleeps” worth seeing is Michael Douglas. Gordon Gekko was probably his greatest role, and Douglas returns to it two decades later with relish. When he shares the screen with LaBeouf, he just lays waste to the kid, making the younger actor look like a limp rag doll the wily vet is kicking around for fun.
Douglas’ performance inevitably also takes on added resonance due to sad real-life events. When Gekko expresses anguish over the drug use and drug-related death of his son, one can’t help remembering that Douglas’ eldest son is currently serving a long stretch in prison on a narcotics-related conviction. And, of course, given Douglas’ recent announcement that he is battling Stage 4 throat cancer, when Gekko talks about time being finite, well, it’s an all too sorrowful case of art imitating life.
“Money Never Sleeps” is a good 20 minutes too long, full of extraneous subplots. My suggestion: Cut out all of Stone and at least 18 minutes of LaBeouf and, hey, you’ve got an investment delivering value on its ticket price.