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IMAGE: "Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps"
Michael Douglas returns as Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps." But this time, his young foil is played by Shia LaBeouf, not Charlie Sheen (Sheen has a cameo).
TODAY contributor
updated 9/20/2010 11:16:13 AM ET 2010-09-20T15:16:13

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?

Video: LaBeouf, Mulligan on ‘Wall Street’ chemistry (on this page)

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."

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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.

Video: ‘Wall Street’ stars ‘Never Sleep’ (on this page)

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").

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Slideshow: Hollywood tackles big business (on this page)

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.

Video: ‘Wall Street’ then and now (on this page)

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?

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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.

Sarah D. Bunting is a writer in Brooklyn.

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Video: LaBeouf: Stone is ‘Orson Welles meets Easter Bunny’

  1. Closed captioning of: LaBeouf: Stone is ‘Orson Welles meets Easter Bunny’

    >>> we're joined now by the one and only shila buff who's star of the movie " wall street ".

    >> we're excited for you.

    >> were you even born when wall street came out?

    >> i was just a year old maybe, 1986 , it came out?

    >> was it an important part of your research to study that movie and dissect it?

    >> i watched it on oliver. and he's big on updates. i watched it many times before i came in.

    >> the director is oliver stone and he's an interesting director in that he gets inside your head. but as an actor, with him in charge, it's interesting.

    >> he's orson wells and the easter bunny .

    >> why do you say that?

    >> he knows what he wants and he demands a lot, but he's got a soft touch. he doesn't berate you, but he expects a lot.

    >> there's a lot happening in the economy between the time the first one came out and this.

    >> you know, the greed is still there, even now, after having made it, they're bundling life insurance policies grim reaper style. it did get worse, less sex, drugs and rock 'n roll on the streets.

    >> i think all the characters have a little bit of good in them and then a good streak of evil in them as well.

    >> it's a bunch of sharks trying to eat each other alive. but if there is a good guy in this movie, it's jake.

    >> you know, i was their conduit to michael douglas . i was the introduction to superman. you rub my back and help me get some coin. so i have really good bargaining chips.

    >> i read one review in the paper, five stars. pretty good stuff.

    >> you're a real talent.

    >> and wall street money never sleeps, opens this friday.

Photos: From Wall Street to Rogue Trader: Films of greed, graft and gluttony

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  1. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

    Wall Street is making a comeback – in theaters near you. The sequel to the Oliver Stone-directed 1987 classic opens nationwide Sept. 24, with Michael Douglas reprising his character as money-grubbing Gordon Gekko.
    Is it a coincidence that geckos are slimy lizards that blend into the crowd?
    “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” continues the theme of greed, scandal and retribution – all qualities of many great motion pictures and TV movies about big business. Here's a list of some recent films that deserve a second look.
    Spoiler alert: Descriptions include key plot points. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Wall Street

    Year: 1987

    Director: Oliver Stone

    U.S. Gross: $43.8 million

    Description: The tale of high-powered success on Wall Street, driven by nothing more than greed. The greediest of the bunch, Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas), left, takes a liking to up-and-coming stockbroker Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), right. The two scheme and swindle their way to oceans of money, until Gekko forces Fox to jeopardize the company run by his father (Martin Sheen).

    Real-life parallel: Gekko’s character is at least in part based on Ivan Boesky, the arbitrageur who amassed hundreds of millions of dollars by timing his investments to corporate takeovers, only to be found by the SEC to have hedged his bets on insider information. Boesky was sentenced three and a half years in prison and fined a whopping $100 million. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Working Girl

    Year: 1988

    Director: Mike Nichols

    U.S. Gross: $63.8 million

    Description: Aspiring businesswoman Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), left, is working as a secretary when her Wall Street boss Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver), right, breaks her leg. Lucky break for Tess. After learning that Katherine was planning to steal her idea to save the company from a takeover, Tess makes a separate deal while her boss is recuperating. It’s a sly move that includes Tess stealing Katherine’s boyfriend played by Harrison Ford, far left.

    Real-life parallel: Just as plucky character Tess gained attention and success, so too did Melanie Griffith. This break-out film earned Griffith an Oscar nomination and the Golden Globe as Best Actress. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Trading Places

    Year: 1983

    Director: John Landis

    U.S. Gross: $90.4 million

    Description: For a $1 bet, owners of a brokerage house swap the lives of a street hustler and a successful commodities trader. Top employee Louis Winthrope III (Dan Aykroyd) is jailed for petty theft after he is framed by owners Mortimer and Randolph Duke. The brothers then arrange for Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), pictured, to work at the brokerage. Valentine's street smarts help him keenly predict commodity movements. After the lowlife rises in society, Randolph wins the wager. But the victims get the last laugh.

    Real-life parallel : Born and raised in 1960s Brooklyn, Eddie Murphy has had a hugely successful career. His acting work alone has helped place him second all-time to Tom Hanks among U.S. box office draws at $3.7 billion. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Glengarry Glen Ross

    Year: 1992

    Director: James Foley

    U.S. Gross: $10.7 million

    Description: In an environment dripping with machismo and testosterone, New York real estate co-workers are thrown a bone by their boss – win a sales contest and drive away with a Caddie Eldorado. Second prize: steak knives. Third prize: You’re fired! Alec Baldwin, pictured, plays Blake, the aggressive, demanding boss who doesn’t hesitate to give his weakest employee the sack. Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon and Alan Arkin also star in this cut-throat drama.

    Real-life parallel: Baldwin’s role as the hard-nosed real-estate boss is seen every week on TV’s The Apprentice in the form of high-powered property scion Donald Trump. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The Secret of My Succe$s

    Year: 1987

    Director: Herbert Ross

    U.S. Gross: $67 million

    Description: Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox), is a sharp kid from Kansas who arrives on New York City’s doorstep expecting to find wealth and happiness. His first job as a financial whiz falls through before he even starts. A visit to his uncle’s large company leads to a job – in the mailroom. That’s where Foster meets a top company exec in Christy Wills (Helen Slater), whom he wants to win over by pretending to be successful. Being an imposter to gain a woman’s affection and learning his uncle (Richard Jordan) is having an affair with her leads to moments of awkwardness and back-stabbing.

    Real-life parallel: Nepotism runs rampant in corporate America, including New York City. Just ask Hank Steinbrenner. (Universal Studios / Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

    Year: 1967

    Director: David Swift

    U.S. Gross: not available

    Description: Young New Yorker J. Pierpont Finch uses guidance from the book “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” in his attempt to carve out a slice of the profit pie. Finch (played by Robert Morse), pictured, gets a job for a company in the building where he washed windows, World Wide Wicket Co. He then climbs the corporate ladder, confronting road blocks and seizing on opportunities in equal measure, until he is within reach of the top – only to find that being truthful to himself is the best lesson in life.

    Real-life parallel: Who needs the World Wide Web when you have the World Wide Wicket Co.? OK, that’s not a good example, especially if you ask young internet stars Sergey Brin and Larry Page. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Office Space

    Year: 1999

    Director: Mike Judge

    U.S. Gross: $10.8 million

    Description: Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is having a bad life. He learns his girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston) is cheating on him, he has the neighbor from hell and he hates his job. A hypnotherapist (Michael McShane) turns Peter into a happy and care-free man. Then the hypnotherapist dies. The locked-in change of attitude places Peter in good stead with the bosses who simultaneously promote him and downsize the company. A plan hatched by some laid-off pals to siphon company cash into Peter’s account goes awry.

    Real-life parallel: This cult film must be a favorite of all workers at the local office supplies store. It includes a quirky thread about a stapler. Not just any stapler. A red Swingline stapler. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Up in the Air

    Year: 2009

    Director: Jason Reitman

    U.S. Gross: $83.8 million

    Description: Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), pictured, is hired to fire. An avid collector of frequent flier miles, Bingham goes from company to company attempting to be compassionate and empathetic while brutally cutting jobs. His life as a corporate henchman is put at risk when his bosses hire a young, upwardly mobile achiever (played by Anna Kendrick), pictured, who recommends conducting the layoffs via remote linkup.

    Real-life parallel: The job-cutting ax has been out across many sectors of American business. Just ask the people who used to work in the financial services and automotive industries. Cutting businesses to the bone in desperate economic times is clearly a full-time business. (DreamWorks Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The Hudsucker Proxy

    Year: 1994

    Director: Joel Coen

    U.S. Gross: $2.8 million

    Description: When company boss Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning) commits suicide, the board decides to appoint someone who knows nothing about the business – in this case, a guy from the mail room played by Tim Robbins, left – a move aimed at running the company into the ground. With the business left in tatters, Sidney J. Mussberger (Paul Newman), right, and his fellow directors swoop in to stage a low-cost takeover in hopes of rebuilding the business and cashing in on the rising share value – to the curiosity of an enterprising reporter (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

    Real-life parallel: We hope there are no real instances of a board hiring the weakest link to lead the company, but if you hear of any examples let us know. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tucker: The Man and His Dream

    Year: 1988

    Director: Francis Ford Coppola

    U.S. Gross: $19.7 million

    Description: Preston Tucker has a vision to produce the best cars in the world. With a love of cars that overshadows his business sense, Tucker manages to obtain funding for his assembly-line factory in post-World War II Chicago. His chutzpah and salesmanship generate interest, but industry and political insiders team up to block manufacture of the so-called Tucker Torpedo. Based on a true story, the result was that many investors lost their money on a company that produced only 50 cars.

    Real-life parallel: Surprisingly, the storyline is similar to Francis Ford Coppola’s maverick style and his own attempt to build a new movie studio – successful in the director’s case. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Boiler Room

    Year: 2000

    Director: Ben Younger

    U.S. Gross: $17 million

    Description: Picture a shady brokerage firm dotted with high-pressure, cold-calling salesmen. Among them is Seth Davis, a Long Island college dropout (played by Giovanni Ribisi), pictured, who scams his way to high investment returns. Once the “pump and dump” scheming wears on his conscience, Davis finds getting out of the game to be far more complex than simply walking away.

    Real-life parallel: Type two words – shady broker – into Bing and you get more than a million results. Need we say more? Seriously, this movie does a surprisingly good job of explaining the “pump and dump” scheme that most commonly afflicts low-priced, thinly traded stocks. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Barbarians at the Gate

    Year: 1993

    Director: Glenn Jordan

    Gross: not applicable

    Description: Based on the book of the same name, this HBO movie tells the true story of an attempt by RJR Nabisco CEO F. Ross Johnson to take over his company. Johnson (James Garner), pictured, doesn’t want to face his stockholders when a smokeless cigarette product flops. His solution: A leveraged buyout of RJR. That way, no one can hold Johnson accountable. But buyout king Henry Kravis (Jonathan Pryce) also has his eye on the company. That sets off a bidding war, which Johnson ultimately loses, and the inflated buyout price creates crushing debt for RJR.

    Real-life parallel: The film includes Fred Thompson in a supporting role, a year before he became a U.S. senator from Tennessee…as real-life as you can get. (HBO) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rogue Trader

    Year: 1999
    Director: James Dearden
    U.K. Gross: $1.6 million (only shown on TV in the U.S.)
    Description: The true story of a derivatives specialist who lost it all. Barings Bank allows Nick Leeson wide latitude to run the British firm’s options trading operation in Singapore in the 1990s. Out of sight, out of mind, Leeson (played by Ewan McGregor), pictured, is eventually buried in losses – worsened by illegal trades – adding up to an astounding 800 million pounds (about $1.4 billion). By the time the bank discovers the sea of red ink, it’s too late. Barings collapses and Leeson is sentenced to six and a half years in a Singapore prison, where he wrote the autobiography that led to this film.
    Real-life parallel: If Barings isn't enough evidence, we can certainly point to the sudden demise of Lehman Brothers. (Cinemax / Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Other People's Money

    Year: 1991

    Director: Norman Jewison

    U.S. Gross: $25.7 million

    Description: Attempts at a hostile takeover of family-run New England Wire and Cable are complicated by the corporate raider’s love interest in the lawyer-daughter of the company owner. The film came at a time when takeovers were commonplace and businesses were eager to beef up their holdings. Starring Danny DeVito as Lawrence “Larry the Liquidator” Garfield, pictured, Gregory Peck and Penelope Ann Miller.

    Real-life parallel: Corporate America is loaded with similar M&A storylines. It’s all about the money, especially if it’s other people’s money. (Warner Bros. / Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The Bonfire of the Vanities

    Year: 1990
    Director: Brian De Palma
    U.S. Gross: $15.7 million
    Description: Tom Hanks, right, stars as bond trader Sherman McCoy, whose life is perfect as he nears a million-dollar deal. Then, poof, it goes up in flames when McCoy’s mistress (Melanie Griffith), left, hits an African-American boy with his car, triggering a domino effect fanned by sensationalized tabloid stories and sharp criticism by media-savvy religious and political leaders. It gets worse from there for the man who had everything.
    Real-life parallel: Two names come to mind: Michael Milken, a junk bond trader from the 1970s and 1980s who received a 10-year prison sentence for insider trading; and the outspoken Rev. Al Sharpton, who for decades has been at the forefront of equal rights and fair representation for minorities. (Warner Bros. / Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. American Psycho

    Year: 2000

    Director: Mary Harron

    U.S. Gross: $15.1 million

    Description: The title says it all. Crazed killer Patrick Bateman has a hugely successful position working on Wall Street. Good day job…and a not-so-nice gig while under the veil of darkness. A dislike for all things corporate America fuels his violent tendencies. Christian Bale, left, plays a convincing psycho in this movie, based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis.

    Real-life parallel: No way near the level of violence portrayed in the movie, but it’s interesting how Bale has had a dark moment or two in real life. Can you say temper tantrum? (Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

    Year: 2005

    Director: Alex Gibney

    U.S. Gross: $4.1 million

    Description: Based on a best-selling book, this documentary focuses on the players in one of America's biggest scandals. The film shows how Enron's former CEO Jeff Skilling established a Darwinian culture among his employees. Recordings reveal employees triggered blackouts in California after purposefully diverting energy out of the state to boost electricity prices – scoring huge profits.

    Real-life parallel: Does WorldCom ring a bell? The communications company was found to have used fraudulent accounting methods to cover growing losses in an effort to improve its stock price. Just after Enron’s demise WorldCom filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2002, at the time the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history. (Magnolia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
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