ON PAPER, it's a fucking great idea: updating Oliver Stone's 1987 finance drama Wall Street to show Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, great and sharkish as ever) before and after the financial collapse of 2008. A couple warning bells, though: The movie's really about the much less interesting character of Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf, who didn't do the Indiana Jones update any favors), a young broker who's engaged to Gekko's estranged daughter Winnie (a blubbery, teary-eyed Carey Mulligan). Moore and Gekko pal up behind weepy Winnie's back to reunite father and daughter—and along the way, Gekko imparts his cutthroat financial wisdom.
The family crap is even soggier than it sounds, but Stone and screenwriter Stephen Schiff have crammed more into Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps—too much, probably, for a single movie. In the film's opening stretch, Moore's firm Keller Zabel (a fictionalized Lehman Brothers) is dissolved, sending Moore's mentor Louis Zabel (the gruff, excellent Frank Langella) into despair, while the predatory Bretton James (Josh Brolin, perfectly oily) buys the shreds of the company for a song. Moore goes to work for James, vowing to exact vengeance for Zabel's decline.
These parts are insanely complicated, but remarkably fascinating—and when Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps acts as a smart, high-finance thriller with indelible contemporary ties, it's among the most gripping movies of the year. But there's too much flab: Stone adds all kinds of technical camera trickery incorporating stock tickers and news feeds; we don't give a shit about Gekko's annoying daughter; LaBeouf remains an incredibly detestable hero (in a few years, he might play a great Gordon Gekko, though). And there's a Charlie Sheen cameo so terrible and stupid that it jolts you right out of the movie. But Wall Street Part Deux hints at a yet-to-be-made American epic, one that covers the recent stock market collapse with wide-reaching moral implications. I can't wait for that movie to come out.