You knew Gordon Gekko hadn’t really gone away. The slimy financial wizard from “Wall Street” must’ve had his paws in the great economic bubble and burst of the last decade.
And sure enough, Michael Douglas and Oliver Stone’s anti-hero from that 1987 film returns in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” a spirited if messy follow-up that plants us right in the financial disaster of the 21st century.
Gekko, played by Douglas again, is released from prison at the film’s start. It takes the old wheeler-dealer a while to connive his way back to the top.
In the meantime, we watch the hustling efforts of young up-and-comer Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), who’s trying to make his mark on Wall Street. It’s going to be difficult, because Jake actually has something like a conscience.
He also has a girlfriend (Carey Mulligan, from “An Education”) who just happens to be Gekko’s estranged daughter. She’s some sort of social do-gooder or something, which means the movie is completely bored by her.
The movie’s first hour is its best section, as Stone plots out the collapse of a Lehman Brotherslike institution; there’s lot of juicy backstabbing and government hand-wringing and unregulated behavior, in every sense.
Good actors such as Josh Brolin, Frank Langella and Eli Wallach enliven these scenes, which take place in money-dripping offices with large dark tables. Stone clearly has some issues he wants to dig into about the irresponsibility of the system.
It’s something of a let-down when the personal story between father and daughter begins to assert itself, if only because this seems so much more conventional than the high-level business machinations.
Overall the movie gets more scattered as it goes along — it’s a little like listening to a slightly crazy person try to tell you about five different subjects he really, really wants you to know about. But that could describe a half-dozen Oliver Stone pictures, including some I quite like.
Michael Douglas has a few good, wild-man moments, especially when Gekko is still struggling to come back and trying to seduce Jake into his web. Shia LaBeouf doesn’t have much of a character to play, which means the actor’s usual intensity comes across as hollow.
There’s a cameo from an important “Wall Street” cast member, plus little more than a cameo from Susan Sarandon, playing Jake’s mother. It all folds into an increasingly sloppy stew.
Plus, it’s belated. Stone and Douglas should’ve been making this movie five years ago, when the insane financial bubble was inflating itself but nobody wanted to point out the obvious, because lots of people were getting richer. It’s a little late now.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, 2 1/2 stars
A spirited but messy follow-up for director Oliver Stone and actor Michael Douglas, who bring back that slimiest of Wall Street wizards, Gordon Gekko. Some of the early business machinations are fun to witness, but the movie gets more distracted as it goes along, and leads Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan don’t really have characters to play.
Rated: PG-13 for language, subject matter
Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Metro, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Uptown, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade Mall