Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone, 133 mins (12A)
Life As We Know It, Greg Berlanti, 114 mins (12A)

Break open the Brylcreem: Gekko is back – but this time he's not so slick

It's been 22 years since Wall Street made it briefly fashionable to slick your hair back with a gallon of Brylcreem, so it would be easy to write off Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps as a tardy cash-in from a director (Oliver Stone) and a star (Michael Douglas) who are nothing like the sound investments they used to be.

Then again, considering how much the financial news has resembled an overheated satire during the past few years, another Wall Street film could scarcely be more relevant. And to begin with, it positively thrums with confidence.

The first scene, set in 2001, has Gordon Gekko (Douglas) being released from prison after an eight-year stretch for insider trading. His personal effects: one gold money clip (empty) and one mobile phone the size of a shoebox. The action then skips to 2008, when Gekko is promoting his newly published memoir, Is Greed Good? while his estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) is living with a hotshot investment banker, Jake (Shia LaBeouf), whose company is gobbled up by a predatory Gekko-alike called Bretton (Josh Brolin). When Jake attends one of Gekko's lectures, the pair of them make a deal: if Jake can arrange a rapprochement with Winnie, Gekko will help him get his revenge on Bretton.

The film's opening sweep is everything you'd want it to be: a meaty, propulsive drama fuelled by equal-parts adrenalin and testosterone. As its impeccably tailored protagonists sit around boardroom tables, puffing cigars, the thrilling realisation arrives that you're watching a mainstream Hollywood entertainment that's actually aimed at grown-ups.

Alas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a case of boom and bust. The original film was a classic Faustian story, but the sequel isn't a classic anything. Sometimes it's about Jake's feud with Bretton, at other times it's about Gekko's relationship with Winnie. Sometimes it's about green energy sources, and at other times it's about the global economic meltdown. Much like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – the last wordily-titled film to revive a 1980s screen icon and then saddle him with LaBeouf as a sidekick – it smacks of a screenplay cobbled together from bits of a dozen earlier drafts. None of its many plot strands is given sufficient prominence for us to care about it, and the hurried way they're all tied up at the end is just silly. There has to be something wrong with a film in which the gaining and losing of $100m barely registers.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps leaves you with the feeling that Stone didn't know what the film should have been about, but any one of us could have told him: Gordon Gekko. Disappointingly, Gekko is a minor character who's hardly glimpsed in the first half-hour, and when we do see him, he's been reduced to a rumpled outsider. "I'm small-time compared to these crooks," he says in reference to Wall Street's current movers and shakers. Well, yes. And who wants to see a small-time Gordon Gekko?

Life As We Know It isn't officially a sequel, but it's not far off. In Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl played an ambitious control freak who was impregnated by a slob she didn't like; in her new film, she plays an ambitious control freak who's raising a baby with one. When her friends are killed in a car crash, she and Josh Duhamel are granted joint custody of their daughter. Amazingly, they learn that babies cry, and that their nappies can be smelly. Will they also learn to love each other, do you think? A romantic comedy so tired that it even has a last-minute dash to the airport.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber sees Universal Studios get into the cartoon business with Despicable Me

Also Showing: 10/10/2010

The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud (99 mins, 12A)

One for Twilight fans: a moody romance featuring a chiselled young hero, but with ghosts instead of vampires. Zac Efron stars as a cemetery caretaker who can see dead people, including his younger brother, who was killed in a car crash five years ago. But when he falls in love, will he choose life or stay with the spooks? It's unapologetically mushy – and better than you might think.

A Town Called Panic (75 mins, PG)

Imagine Trumpton on several illegal substances, or Wallace and Gromit getting drunk with the cast of South Park, and you'll have some idea what to expect of this genuinely potty, frequently hilarious stop-motion animation from Belgium.

Jackboots on Whitehall (92 mins, 12A)

Punishingly unfunny spoof Second World War adventure using sub-Thunderbirds puppetry. The first-time directors have somehow gathered a high-profile voice cast, but the jokes are few and far between, and terrible. Team America it ain't.

Restrepo (93 mins, 15)

A year in the life of a platoon of United States soldiers stationed in a makeshift outpost in Afghanistan. This fly-on-the-wall documentary shows that they like tattoos and swearing, but otherwise it's unenlightening.

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