— I can't wait for "Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps" to come out. I love the original "Wall Street"; it's one of those movies I can never surf past when it's on TV.
This isn't because "Wall Street" is good; it isn't. It's quite bad, in fact, but that so-bad-it's-good quality is what's so entertaining about it now: the cringe-worthy dialogue, the cartoonish shoulder pads, Gordon Gekko's soliloquy about the sunrise on a cordless phone the size of a fire extinguisher.
The movie isn't completely terrible, of course — Michael Douglas took home a deserved Oscar for his portrayal of the ruthless Gekko, and the plot is genuinely suspenseful. But I love the first "Wall Street" not despite its flaws, but because of them.
I want to love the sequel, too — but should it showcase the same campy imperfections I cherish about the original? Or should director Oliver Stone try to address those problems the second time around?
It depends on which problems we mean. The biggest issue with "Wall Street" is the dialogue, which has all the nuance of a rusty cowbell. When the script isn't calling upon its characters to deliver chewy paragraphs of exposition on how insider trading works, it's forcing them to utter clunky koans like, "I'm shooting for the stars, Darien — and you're coming along for the ride," or clichéd exchanges like this one: "Look in the mirror!" "I am — and I sure don't like what I see."
The original's script reserves the most ridiculous lines for Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), especially when he's talking to…himself. Prior to his first meeting with Gekko, Bud gives himself a pep talk in a mirror — "Life all comes down to a few moments; this is one of them" — but as corny as that line is, it pales in comparison to the scene in which Bud must wander onto the balcony of his palatial loft, survey the nighttime cityscape, and wonder out loud, IN HIS UNDERPANTS, "…Who am I?"
Well, he's Charlie Sheen, which is the other primary failing of "Wall Street" — the acting. Douglas is outstanding as Gekko, and Hal Holbrook, obligated to read proverbs about man staring into the abyss as if they weren't hackneyed, somehow makes it work.
But sometimes it's horrid, most noticeably in the scenes between Martin and Charlie Sheen as Carl and Bud Fox. Sheen Sr. commits fully to the dialogue and manages to give its clichés emotional heft; Sheen Jr., not a heavyweight thespian at his best, settles for yelling and pooching out his lower lip.
And the less said about Daryl Hannah as interior designer/symbol of Bud's moral compromise Darien Taylor, the better. Actual logs are less wooden than her line readings.
Myths vs. realism
Should Stone "fix" the writing and the acting? Yes and no. Realistic dialogue is not what Oliver Stone does well; Stone isn't as interested in realism as he is in epic situations and archetypes, whether the movie is about finance, Vietnam ("Platoon," "Born on the Fourth of July"), assassination and conspiracy ("JFK"), or rock and roll ("The Doors").
Stone wants to explore myths, and sometimes make his own. That goal doesn't usually allow for subtlety. When Stone's majestic stories work, they're quite powerful ("Born on the Fourth of July"), and when they don't, they're nearly unwatchable ("Alexander"). But either way, his films seem to require grandiose, self-serious scripts packed to the rafters with unironically abstract sermonizing.
It isn't necessary to cast Oscar-winners or graduates of the Actors Studio, but a Stone movie does need actors who will read lines like "Lunch is for wimps" with conviction, no matter how bombastic or silly. Hannah had wretched lines, and couldn't sell them. Terence Stamp, as corporate raider Sir Larry Wildman, had even worse writing to work with (and had to append "mate" to each sentence), and sold it completely.
Stone is working with a solid company the second time around — Douglas is back, Sheen has a cameo, and the cast also includes Susan Sarandon, Josh Brolin, Donald Trump (playing himself), and Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan as Gekko's daughter. But regardless of which pros he's got on the team, can Stone recreate one of the truly successful aspects of the original "Wall Street" — the suspenseful plotting?
Modern technology can slow down the script
It's fun to watch "Wall Street" and laugh at the blocky desktop computers with their Space-Invaders-esque display fonts; the Sony Watchman (complete with three-foot antenna) that Gekko shows off as the latest in portable equipment; the plot points that rely on calls from pay phones. But the fact that the characters had to speak to one another on land lines and in person helped to generate tension in a way that watching people email and text one another simply doesn't.
It's hard enough to shoot a business story in a compelling way when so much of the "action" is wire transfers and discussions of price points, but at least Stone could set a few scenes on the physical trading floor in "WS." Computers have eliminated the need for that floor in recent years.
"Wall Street 2" teams young hotshot Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) with a paroled Gekko, not just to alert the Street to the coming crash but also to avenge the death of Moore's mentor, so presumably Stone can wring a nail-biter sequence or two out of the material.
The original isn't good in a lot of ways, but it has energy; it's often bad, but never boring. "Money Never Sleeps" needs to hold on to the narrative spark and tempo of its otherwise-dated predecessor, and if it does, it'll work for me. If it shoots for the stars, amateurish acting and bad perms can come along for the ride.