If there is such thing as “over-acting” than there should also be “over-directing” and “over-writing.” Sometimes, even in the most competent hands, a performance comes off laughably bad, and it’s easy to blame the actor, but an actor can only sell so much. A lazy script is friend to cliché, and regardless of how genuine and talented the all-star cast comes off, they can’t knock the weak material, and the film comes off as laughable during moments of serious drama, and boring during moments of intrigue.

There is always hesitation when reviewing a sequel, but Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps had a lot of things working in its favor. The landscape of the financial industry is much different now from what it was back in 1987, when the original came out. Arguably there could have been three or four sequels dealing with the changing tide of the industry and the scandals that have ensued as a result, but the fact that they took their time and allowed the original characters to grow made a lot of initial doubters breathe easy.

Wall Street was successful because it captured a very era-defining mentality. The phrase “greed is good,” became almost synonymous with '80s culture after the release of the original. The difficulty with a high-profile sequel is trying to recreate that feeling of a generation resonating with an idea. A film like Meet the Parents is a hit, because despite its many imperfections, it showcased something that the public was waiting for. For every obvious gag or dated joke there were moments that showed the current divide between generations and the modern difficulties associated with a young man meeting his potential in-laws. The sequels lacked that same commitment to showcasing something new, and for that reason were essentially redundant.

With Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, director Oliver Stone, along with writers Alan Loeb and Stephen Schiff, could have made another era-defining film, one that commented on consumer culture while providing an inside look at a Wall Street-led economic meltdown. They attempted to do so, but approached it so casually that it lacks any sort of intellect or understanding. It’s essentially an action movie starring numbers. More emphasis is put on Shia Labeouf’s motorcycle than on any sort of concrete understanding of the situation.

Michael Moore gets a bad reputation for being opportunistic, but Stone and Co. come off as a great deal more disingenuous than Moore ever did. The Wall Street crisis is on everyone’s minds, and knowing that a sequel to the 1980s hit would make plenty of money, this movie was born. It has been 13 years since the original, but that time hadn’t been spent considering a sequel. Money Never Sleeps is so formulaic that the power of the original seems more like a writing prompt than source material. The film says nothing that hasn’t already been said.

On top of that, Stone doesn’t shy away from visual clichés. Characters enter dark offices only to find an unexpected guest suddenly switch on a table lamp. Actors pause for a moment before uttering a line so inauthentic it sounds designed to be quoted. The snotty rich guys always seem to be holding a benefit dinner where a granddaughter is playing a grand piano. A punky kid in a lecture hall is initially dismissive until he slowly gets won over by the lecturer. And every problem, regardless of how determined the characters try to prove they aren’t interested in money, can be solved with money.

Despite all of this there are brief glimpses into just how in-tune the actors are to their roles. Carey Mulligan and Josh Brolin provide moments of such nuanced intensity that you truly do appreciate their ability to transform a two-dimensional role into something with a great deal of substance. Unfortunately a good film doesn’t give you time to sit back and appreciate a transformation. Characters should be three-dimensional from the beginning, but by waiting around for a scene where they can actually shine, the actors get lost in a sea of redundant statements and cliché plot devices.

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella

Director: Oliver Stone

Runtime: 124 minutes

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Rating: PG-13

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