Much has changed in the world of finance since Oliver Stone first explored its grubby innards in 1987’s Wall Street a film that netted Michael Douglas a Best Actor Oscar for his iconic portrayal of scheming corporate raider Gordon Gekko. Technological advances regulatory changes a terrorist attack a global economic meltdown and the emergence of China as a dominant player have combined to transform the securities industry in the two-plus decades since Gekko paraphrasing Ivan Boesky first captured its more sinister aspects in those famous words “Greed is good.”
What hasn’t changed is Stone who remains every bit as hubristic and heavy-handed as ever. With his sprawling spotty follow-up Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps he has once again taken it upon himself to put forth the definitive portrait of the culture of money and the film suffers badly for it. Set in 2008 in those halcyon days just prior to the subprime mortgage crisis and its subsequent leveling of financial landscape the film is told through the wide eyes of young Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) the 21st-century heir to Bud Fox’s mantle. (Charlie Sheen who portrayed Fox in the first film resurfaces in a fun but ultimately pointless cameo in the sequel.)
Jake we are told is a successful proprietary trader but his countenance more closely resembles that of a venture capitalist. (The risky practices and alleged conflicts of interests of prop traders are widely believed to be among the causes of the financial collapse; the Obama administration has recently proposed their ban.) Though he’s as profit-driven as any other young Wall Street turk he also boasts something of an idealistic streak and hopes to use his position at the prestigious investment banking firm of Keller Zabel to further the cause of a cutting-edge green energy startup. No doubt it’s this noble trait that appeals to his girlfriend Winnie (Carey Mulligan) a progressive pixie who runs a muckraking leftist blog and who also happens to be Gekko’s estranged daughter.
Jake’s bright future takes a dark turn when rumors of over-exposure to “toxic assets” swallow up first his company Keller Zabel and then its founder Lou (Frank Langella) who opts to retire beneath a speeding subway train after the Federal Reserve denies his request for an emergency bailout. Devastated by the suicide of his boss and mentor Jake vows to exact revenge upon the slithery brute he believes to be the source of the poisonous rumors: Bretton James (Josh Brolin) a prominent partner at Churchill Schwartz (read: Goldman Sachs) Keller’s chief rival.
And where exactly does Gordon Gekko figure in all of this? After the opening sequence during which he emerges from a lengthy prison stay to find no one waiting to greet him Gekko doesn’t re-enter the story until about the 30th minute and lurks mainly on its periphery for much of his screen time. In the years since his incarceration for the various misdeeds chronicled in the first film he’s rebranded himself as a sort of populist crusader against speculator avarice hawking a book about the ills of the financial system entitled Is Greed Good? (“You’re all pretty much fucked ” he instructs a lecture audience.) Gekko’s got a grudge of his own against Bretton his one-time protege turned state’s witness in his securities fraud conviction and he agrees to supply Jake with crucial insider info in exchange for help in brokering a reconciliation with his daughter Winnie.
All of this is set against a backdrop of the collapses and bailouts of the 2008 financial tumult — a topic that could easily warrant its own film. (Indeed HBO is currently readying its adaptation of Aaron Ross Sorkin’s book about the crisis.) His ambition outstripping his ability Stone labors awkwardly to integrate the macro of the crisis with its many backroom deals and soap-opera intrigues and the micro of Jake’s increasingly complex relationship with Gekko. Mulligan’s character meant to serve as the film’s emotional anchor as well as its conscience is ultimately little more than a distraction diverting us from the story’s more compelling elements. The last third of the film which focuses on Gekko’s reemergence as a Wall Street player feels tacked-on as if driven by data from test audiences dissatisfied with his relatively minor presence in the early goings.
There are moments in Money Never Sleeps where Stone successfully invokes the heady verve of the 1987 film but for a story dealing with such titillating subject matter its pace too often drags to a near-halt as it wallows excessively in Gekko family melodrama. (The performances it should be noted are all terrific though LaBeouf is an exceedingly tough sell as a would-be BSD.) And a topic as sexy as money should never ever be boring.
Well if the title doesn’t say it all…Picking up where Alien vs. Predator left off those pesky aliens cause the Predator ship to crash on Earth setting them free near a Colorado town. A lone Predator (Ian Whyte encoring from AvP) comes to Earth to clean up the mess and what the hell maybe pick up a few human trophies too. Needless to say the town’s human residents are completely unprepared for this sort of inter-galactic free-for-all on their streets. This is after all the sort of town where everybody knows everybody but no one seems to notice when a spaceship crashes in the woods outside of town or when the self-same spaceship blows up the next day. In short you could say that they get what’s coming to them--and they sure do. Pretty dreadful all around. Then again Shane Salerno’s script is pointless to begin with. Steven Pasquale (TV’s Rescue Me) plays the ex-con hero Dallas (a nod to the original Alien). Reiko Aylesworth (TV’s 24) plays a veteran of the Gulf War who returns stateside just in time to engage in another one--a pretty pale homage to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character. John Ortiz plays the local sheriff one of the dullest (and dumbest) screen lawmen in recent memory. Veteran Robert Joy drops in briefly as a weasely U.S. Army colonel who would just as soon nuke the town as try to save it. Every time this film focuses on the (one-dimensional) human characters it stops cold. Unfortunately this happens a lot. There’s no reason to root for them because you simply don’t care. True to form most of them are sliced diced chopped lasered exploded from within and otherwise treated in a shabby fashion. They are simply fodder. Just for the record this is the sixth Alien film and the fourth Predator film and it holds the dubious distinction of being the worst of any of them. The special effects are just dandy but not much else is. This also marks the inauspicious feature directorial debut of noted visual effects artists Colin and Greg Strause (billed as “The Brothers Strause”). They clearly have an affinity for this sort of thing--and for the Alien and Predator franchises--but are just as clearly content to simply let the special effects run away with the story. The first Alien vs. Predator movie was no great shakes but it was better than it had any right to be. This one is not. Responding to the fans who wanted this film to be R-rated the Brothers Strause have delivered on that--and absolutely nothing more. It’s a pointless exercise.
For most of us the feeling of being frozen on 9/11 will never leave; it was our knee-jerk reaction to news and images that we just couldn’t wrap our heads around. But for policemen and -women and countless other emergency personnel in New York City on Sept. 11 2001 the knee-jerk reactions were those of duty and instinct--and as World Trade Center demonstrates a human’s most basic instinct is to want to help a fellow human. After the first plane hit the World Trade Center Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) a veteran of the Port Authority Police Department and PAPD officer Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) were amongst the first responders who raced into the heart of pandemonium. Mere hours earlier the two men were heading in for another day at the office the twin towers hovering exclamation marks in the skyline that enveloped their morning commute; hours later the officers were trapped under twisted metal that was previously the Trade Center from which only 20 people would be rescued. WTC tells of their desperate struggle to stay awake let alone alive with the help of the spirits of their wives Donna McLoughlin (Maria Bello) and Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who were equally in the dark. Even with all the agent hardball and anticipatory buzz that likely factored into these actors earning these roles there’s something noble in their seeking involvement. That nobility manages to come across in even the smallest roles. For one we’ve never seen Cage quite like this--stern hushed steely impenetrable. (Even in his somber roles like Leaving Las Vegas he is animated and herky-jerky.) But it’s those traits that convey a dutiful man of the law a man who tries to remain levelheaded even while pinned beneath a building’s worth of debris--anything to improve his chances of seeing his family again. Cage also nails a subtle New York accent--which would seem in theory difficult for him--making his character lived-in instead of methodized. As his cohabitant for what seems an eternity Pena also scores big. Last year’s Crash put him on the map; WTC breaks him out. As the much younger and slightly less severely hurt of the two Pena’s Jimeno adds a touch more energy even comedy at one point humming TV-show theme songs. The men’s beleaguered wives wear the terror on their faces and wear it well and there couldn’t have been two better choices than Gyllenhaal and Bello. Gyllenhaal’s Jimeno is heavily pregnant with hormonal swings that don’t help her already distraught state while Bello’s expression looks even more urgent than it did throughout A History of Violence. If he weren’t on the inside looking out Oliver Stone might’ve said it himself: There’s something not right about America’s darkest day looking glossy as a poster advertising its movie. Ironically it’s Stone who’s responsible for this effect in WTC. Doubly ironic is the fact that the man who has always been such a controversy magnet tackles his most incendiary project only to produce by far his tamest effort yet. In that sense there are reasons to admire Stone’s finished product--“product” in every sense of the word--but there is a gaping void where his voice or slant usually goes. And while it’s honorable for him to sacrifice his beloved politicizing and philosophizing--there’s hardly any attention paid to the attack or the Bush administration--for the sake of WTC’s heroism Stone in a decidedly anti-Stone move has turned this film into Apollo 13 all the way down to its absurd box-office minded PG-13 rating. The true story is obviously compelling; its movie dramatization as borderline unpatriotic as it may sound is “soap opera” compelling. But maybe that’s because more so than Stone’s sudden conservatism some true stories--earmuffs Hollywood--are too big for the big screen.
After nine grueling years we can finally stop wondering what happened that fateful day when Lloyd Christmas (Eric Christian Olsen subbing for Carrey) first crossed paths with fellow dimwit Harry Dunne (Derek Richardson replacing Daniels). It's 1986 the first day of the new school year and our two IQ-challenged heroes literally run into each other as they race to class. Before you can screech annoyingly they're bosom buddies and the star pupils in the school's special-needs class. Only the class is a scam organized by the conniving Principal Collins (Eugene Levy) to bilk the high school of a $100 000 grant. Of course there's no doubt these oblivious oafs will ruin Collins' plan to run off to Hawaii with horny lunch lady Ms. Heller (Cheri Oteri). Unfortunately we must first endure the forced and blatant rehashing of Dumb and Dumber's funniest moments. Cue bathroom mishaps endless games of tag a fire at a gas station and fights over a beautiful but attached gal (Rachel Nichols). Director Troy Miller even ends this shameless exercise in redundancy by duplicating the predecessor's hilarious final scene featuring scantily clad beauties. Miller and co-writer Robert Brener also offer very few new nuggets of information about the wheeler-dealing Lloyd and the sweet Harry. We do find out how Lloyd chipped one of his front teeth but that's pretty much it. By the time school's out it's clear that it's less fun watching juveniles act like juveniles than watching men act like juveniles.
"Imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism " Carrey recently quipped to David Letterman about Dumb and Dumberer. He's right. With his bowl-head haircut and chipped tooth the gangly jug-eared Olsen could easily pass for a pimply faced teen-age Carrey. Close your eyes and you'll even swear it's Carrey uttering Lloyd's catchphrase "I like it a lot!" But Olsen doesn't possess Carrey's uncanny elasticity. His facial contortions look taut and strained not rubbery. And that robs this prequel of much of its comic possibilities. That said Olsen's undaunted by the task of making audiences believe he's not a pretender to the porcelain throne. He's always working to wring out as many giggles as possible from the lazy and inane script no matter how humiliating. Richardson however doesn't even try to muster as much as half of Olsen's energy and enthusiasm. He sleep-walks through the mayhem waking up to occasionally run his fingers through his unruly blonde 'do or to shoot off fretful glances whenever the going gets tough. The dumbest thing about the film though is that it gives Levy nothing to do except grope the game Oteri. You can't fault him for being bored embarrassed and unwilling to bring down this house with his customary scene-stealing antics. That leaves Bob Saget--of all people!--to provide the film's sole guffaw. All he's required to do is repeat an expletive--think fecal matter--again and again. But he's so consumed with spewing out this cuss-word that you wonder whether he's just releasing his pent-up frustrations about what his post-Full House career has amounted to. Who can blame him?
Congratulations Troy Miller you've done the impossible: make the fart-friendly Farrelly Brothers look like comedy sophisticates. Miller knows what's amusing and what isn't--he's worked for HBO's hilarious Mr. Show and Tenacious D. But he treats Dumb and Dumberer as nothing more than a cheap and cheerless attempt to belatedly exploit one of Carrey's early rubber-faced farces. Needless to say this is not the best way make us forget Harry and Lloyd's fitfully funny cross-country trek in their shaggin' wagon. Miller displays no respect for the Farrelly Brothers' commitment to passionate and painstaking execution of even the most simplest and crudest of gags. He merely bangs everything out with a minimal interest in style or originality. So there's no pleasure to be found in Harry and Lloyd's classroom disasters or their Jackass-inspired cart ride. He's also very sloppy with trying to maintain the facade of the 1980s. It's tough imagining you're back in the Me Decade when he has Lloyd prancing like the village idiot to Vanilla Ice's 1990 cringe-inducing "Ice Ice Baby" or he neglects to remove from a store rack a magazine with Chelsea Clinton on the cover. Then again perhaps Miller couldn't afford to hire someone to keep an eye on such Reagan era-related errors. So just how cut-rate is Dumb and Dumberer? Check out Lloyd's chipped tooth-it looks like someone barely remembered to black it out with a marker pen.