Having unwittingly given the Celtic Tiger both its battle cry and epitaph with his 'Greed is good' speech in the original 'Wall Street', Michael Douglas returns not, it seems, as one of the smuggest, dodgiest, wealthiest and most charismatic villains in movie history but as a changed man. Ok, Gordon Gekko's still has presence and, despite a seven-year stretch in the big house for insider trading, is still quite pleased with himself but he's riding the subway, hawking his new book around college campuses and warning anyone who will listen that "home loan defaults are just the first raindrops in the mother of all storms".
Gekko's conversion from profit to prophet coincides with Wall Street taking the daddy of all hammerings in September 2008 and brokers seeing their own fortunes disappear on screens before their eyes. Among them is Jacob Moore (LaBeouf), the whizz kid protégé of veteran investment banker Louis Zabel (Langella) and husband-to-be of one Winnie Gekko (Mulligan). Feeling the need to engineer a reconciliation between father and daughter before the walk down the aisle, Jacob seeks out Gekko, sees the human side of him and begins a master-pupil relationship where each trades something with the other. But what does Gekko really want? A friend, a chance to make amends or a lot, lot more?
Stone behind the lens, Douglas and two of Hollywood's bright young things in front of it, David Byrne back on the soundtrack, the best true life story as source material and a smirking cameo from Charlie Sheen as the original's hero Bud Fox - '...Money Never Sleeps' looked like a safer bet than gold. But this is a muddled and overlong conclusion to the Gekko fable that never makes the best use of its assets and will leave many feeling they should've invested elsewhere.
The first 20 minutes are brilliant. As the financial earthquake begins, Stone really captures the denial, tension and terror. Langella's character lets his dog take him for a walk as his business crumbles. With the folly of youth, LaBeouf's Jacob believes things will be alright until it's too late and Gekko's I-told-you smirk will resonate deeply with Irish audiences. Had Stone used this opening as the ending, and spent the rest of the film building up to the collapse, '...Money Never Sleeps' would've worked far better. Instead he gets hung up on revenge, includes over-the top scenes like a gala ball (great as a Ferrero Rocher ad but does nothing for the story) and an Alpha Male motorbike race and batters the viewer with split screens, graphics and animations, shots of night becoming day, look-we've-got-a-helicopter aerial views of New York and subtle metaphors (dominos fall, bubbles climb in the sky) that feel like the work of a rookie, not someone who has the original, 'Salvador' and 'Platoon' on his CV.
Getting Douglas to reprise his role as Gekko after a 23-year gap was a great idea and while he gets all the best lines here ("You stop telling lies about me and I'll stop telling the truth about you", "Money isn't the prime asset in life: time is"), his performance doesn't have the same impact as his first turn as Gekko or his portrayal of another lost man, Nicholas Van Orton, in 'The Game'. Aside from a weaker script, the reason for this is that Stone gave him the wrong foil: LaBeouf doesn't convince in his role and there's no great connection with or fears about what's going to happen to his character. Why Stone didn't swap the roles and have Mulligan as the daughter who follows daddy to the Dow and LaBeouf as the right-on journalist fiancé in search of a big story is a mystery viewers can try to unravel as they wonder when the film is going to actually end. It eventually does, disappointingly.
If you're looking for something with a gripping storyline, massive egos, boardroom shafting and scheming, save your money until next week when Facebook biopic 'The Social Network' opens - now it really is the business.