Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), left, takes on a young Wall Street trader (Shia LaBeouf) in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."
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In Oliver Stone's sequel "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," financial uber-villain Gordon Gekko goes soft, the characters around him go soft in the head, and the director who hard-balled capitalism in his 1987 drama "Wall Street" has apparently misplaced his political Viagra.
"Money Never Sleeps" celebrates the return of Gekko, who won a best actor Oscar for Michael Douglas just for delivering his now-classic speech praising unregulated capitalism. ("Greed is good," he says to room full of investors. "Greed works!")
Stone attempts to capture lightning in bottle again by having Gekko - reprised by a much older Douglas, of course - address students with an update on the "Greed" speech.
He tells them that not only is greed still good, "apparently, now it's legal!"
The original "Wall Street" cast Charlie Sheen as Bud Fox, a naive young stock trader who learns the worst from the best. He winds up in the hoosegow for illegal practices, but he still takes down his mentor the great Gekko by wearing a wire for the cops.
Gekko has served his time and gets sprung into the world like a financial Darth Vader, except his constant uttering of philosophical axioms ("It takes a fisherman to see another fisherman on the horizon!") makes him sound like Yoda writing fortune cookie sayings for Wall Street restaurants.
As he did in "Wall Street," Stone teases us with quick glimpses of Gekko, building up our anticipation to see how he's weathered prison.
Meanwhile, "Money Never Sleeps" whisks us through the romantic subplot involving another idealistic trader named Jake (a boringly clean-cut Shia LaBeouf), who's big into two things: renewable green energy sources and Gekko's pretty daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan, investing far more depth into her character than the screenplay does).
Winnie hates Dad. She blames him for the deaths of her depressed mother and addicted brother. She doesn't even pick Dad up the day he's sprung from prison.
By the way, it's 2008.
We all know what's about to happen to the market.
Jake's mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella as a symbol of the old, apparently honest Wall Street) becomes the collective victim of the financial holocaust, a tragic character doomed by hedge funds and inflated leverages.
The collapse of Zabel's company is orchestrated by Bretton James, another villain designed to out-Gekko Gordon Gekko himself. He's played by Josh Brolin as a snake oil salesman on a motorbike. You can almost see the invisible mustache Brolin keeps twirling.
As the bricks on Wall Street become dislodged, Stone disappoints our expectations by pulling his punches on the selfish motivations of Wall Street players and the undone diligence of financial watchdogs sleeping on the job.
Rather, "Money Never Sleeps" settles for a tidy, Hollywood marshallow ending that Stone back in 1987 would have regarded as a ludicrous sellout.
Confusing, too, is Sheen's crowd-pleasing cameo as Bud, who fleetingly meets Gekko at a party. Now a rich man with a woman on each arm (a joke about Sheen's personal image?), Bud apparently forgot the lesson he supposedly learned at the end of "Wall Street."
He's not the only one.
"Getting old is not for sissies, kid," Louis Zabel cautions Jake.
But going soft probably is.
"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps"
Rating: ★ ★ ½
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Other: A 20th Century Fox release. Rated PG-13 for language. 136 minutes