How the hell do you make a sequel to a 23-year-old film that manages to feel more dated than the original? I’ll tell you how: Allan fucking Loeb, people. I’ve harped on this guy in the past, but really, this schmuck is an insult to screenwriters. Hell, he’s an insult to victims of fetal alcohol syndrome. How do you give the screenwriting duties to a sequel to the financial film of an entire generation to a guy who turns his fart bubbles into prose? This is Wall Street. Maybe that doesn’t mean a lot too many of you, but Gordon Gecko is a goddamn cultural icon, a cinematic villain who represents the very worst of American excess and greed. How do you hand that character over to a middle-aged child who cobbles together his scripts with yellow crayon and drool? To a guy who wrote The Switch, and who is writing the next Adam Sandler and Kevin James movies? Allan Loeb is not a screenwriter; he’s a guy who strings together passages out of the Bible of Platitudes and Clichés with the trending topics on Twitter. He’s a studio pinhead; a hired hand; a company man. He’s a vacuous hack who’d sell you the three remaining rocks in his head for a stick of bubblegum and some belly lint.
There’s a certain irony to the fact that Wall Street 2 focuses on our current economic crisis, specifically in how it was created by rich white men swapping meaningless pieces of paper to give the illusion of wealth. That’s exactly what Loeb does with Wall Street: He fills his actors full of meaningless words to give the illusion that they’re saying something. He throws out financial terminology that he clearly doesn’t understand, like a grade-schooler pilfering a thesaurus, and he mixes that terminology with every vapid, self-important platitude that every 92-year-old Cubs fan has been spewing since the Depression. And in this process, he creates an over-long, convoluted mess of a maze to obscure the fact that all you had to do was open the fucking front door and walk straight into his bullshit, cop-out ending. Everything leading up to the last half hour is pointless. Wall Street 2 is the crooked cab driver of movies, the guy who takes the tourist the long way to their hotel to double the fare, demands a tip, and then doesn’t even help with the luggage.
Oliver Stone doesn’t get off easy, either. He’s a bloated, washed-up carcass of a director who hasn’t made anything worthwhile in 15 years, and it’s obvious that Wall Street 2 is a cash grab. He doesn’t add a single goddamn thought to what went into the movie besides his own egomaniacal (and pointless) cameo. Worse, he’s like an old man who refuses to get with the times, clinging to his AOL email account and dial-up service, brain-fried by the beepy-static and the buffering message that plagues his Internet porn addiction. Granted, the original Wall Street was a fairly uncomplicated movie built largely around a brilliant character, but a lot has changed since the 1980s. Believe it or not, the explosion of independent film over that period has actually pushed adult narratives into more sophisticated territory, while Stone clings to his brain-dead didacticism. Audiences have matured; we may not expect much from Michael Bay’s Transporn movies, but when it comes to adult dramas, it serves you not to insult the intelligence of your audience, especially an audience that bothers with a film based on the financial markets. Some passing familiarity of finance would’ve been helpful, and Oliver Stone would’ve been wise not to hire a imbecilic monkey to head-bang out a script with headlines from Highlights financial section.
Credit the performances, especially that of Michael Douglas, for lifting Loeb’s doltish wordplay out of the depths of the sewer and up to the top, where it could at least float around with the turds. Shia LaBeouf plays Jake Moore, another one of LaBeouf’s arrogant hucksters. He’s a young, hustling broker who, early on in the film, loses his mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella). Zabel took a header off a subway platform after Bretton James (Josh Brolin) — a manager at another brokerage house — started a rumor that sinks Zabel and his firm. Moore wants payback, which he eventually attempts to get in a manner akin to derailing the stock market with a goofy YouTube video.
Jake’s also engaged to Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), a political blogger and daughter of Gordon, though she hasn’t spoken to him since he was released from prison eight years prior. Moore, as a means of getting back at James and maybe even help his girlfriend reconcile with her father, gets in contact with Gordon, and the two hash over a few cliches and trade several platitudes. Moore wants to make a lot of money, fund alternative energy, marry Winnie, save his mother from financial ruin, destroy Bretton James, cure cancer, and solve the crisis in the Middle East, all in one movie, and he thinks Gekko can help. All of this, of course, is set against the backdrop of the 2008 global financial meltdown, which allows Loeb and Stone to flash up a bunch of numbers, a few newspaper headlines, and a lot of worried faces and call it social commentary. It’s not social commentary; it’s fucking window dressing, and Loeb is scrawling smiley-faces in the fog on the glass.
To dissect the plot any further would be futile. Loeb doesn’t so much construct a narrative as he mashes up a lot of issues, which he does by creating characters that represent those issues, like pointlessly making Jake’s mom (Susan Sarandon) a real-estate buyer, who keeps pumping money neither she nor Jake has into houses that no one wants to buy, a subplot that hangs like Loeb’s flacid penis in between unearned paychecks. There are also actors cast as members of the Federal Reserve, who offer little to the story other than grim pronouncements about the state of the financial system parroted from empty-headed Fox news anchors.
LaBeouf is little more than a vessel for Loeb’s outpouring of buzzwords, while there’s not only little chemistry between he and Mulligan, but little reason for there to be in the first place. There’s no explanation as to why these two characters — who have nothing in common, and who share none of the same ideals — are even together. In the second scene of the film, Mulligan’s character asks Jake, “Why am I even with you?” and it’s a question that hangs over the entire movie; Shia’s LaBeoufian puppy dog eyes and the outpouring of Mulligan tears are powerless to explain their inexplicable connection.
What’s most criminal, however, is what Loeb and Stone do with Gordon Gekko. They don’t know whether to make his story one of soulless cynicism and greed or one of redemption and pathos, so they vacillate between the two and, in the process, decimate the potential of both, and ruin an otherwise excellent performance from Douglas, who I have to imagine was shaking his head in between takes and yelling, “Ollie! Are you serious? Do I really have to read this shit? I’ve seen better writing on the back of a 10th grade girl’s notebook.” That may be true, but I doubt, however, that the 10th grade girl’s love poems to Robert Pattinson are nearly as contrived as Wall Street 2.