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"BOILER ROOM"
(2000) (Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A college drop-out joins a maverick, but successful brokerage firm where he not only learns the ropes of becoming a millionaire, but also that such money doesn't come without strings attached.
PLOT:
Seth Davis (GIOVANNI RIBISI) is a 19-year-old college dropout who runs a small backdoor casino out of his apartment, much to the chagrin of his judge father, Marty Davis (RON RIFKIN). Although he's making money, he's not making as much or as fast as he'd like, so when he meets higher roller Greg Weinstein (NICKY KATT), an arrogant broker for the brokerage firm of J.T. Marlin, he's instantly intrigued.

Greg agrees to get him an interview at the Long Island based firm, where Seth meets Jim Young (BEN AFFLECK), the enthusiastically cocky head recruiter, as well as the other fledgling recruits. Herded under Greg's protective wing, the recruits learn the biz of making hard stock sales over the phone, and Seth soon stands out, impressing Greg's chief rival, millionaire Chris Varick (VIN DIESEL).

Although he's flying below the radar of the firm's boyish leader, Michael Brantley (TOM EVERETT SCOTT), Seth becomes more proficient as he nears getting his broker's license. This doesn't sit well with Greg, who's jealous of the up and coming star, especially when he starts dating the firm's receptionist, Abby Halpert (NIA LONG), a woman Greg previously pursued.

Even so, Seth's father is pleased that his son finally has a legitimate job. Yet, when Seth becomes curious about how the firm can pay such high commissions on each sale, he begins to uncover some rather unsavory and illegal activities within the firm. As one of his clients, Harry (TAYLOR NICHOLS), begins to panic over the portfolio Seth manipulated him into buying and the FBI begins snooping around, the young man begins to question whether the ease and speed of making money is worth the associated risk.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Unlike many other professions, such as law or medicine, where you must attend a related school before beginning to practice in that field, those who make films don't necessarily have to attend film school. While that's not necessarily a bad thing and many a successful filmmaker has skipped that process, such people should be forced to sign and agree to follow "The Golden Commandments and Rules of Filmmaking," placing them on the wall in a conspicuous place as a daily reminder of the following.

"Thou should have a good script before filming begins," "Having a star doesn't necessarily equal a good movie" and "Don't remake a film, or shoot a sequel to another film unless you have a VERY good reason - other than to make money" are just a few of the rules. There's also "Thou should never do a story that's already been done, unless something very worthwhile can be explored" which then leads to "Whatever you do, never reference, let alone show clips from, a superior film in the same genre of the story you're currently making.

While I don't know if first-time filmmaker Ben Younger attended film school, he certainly never read and clearly doesn't follow that last rule. That's because the writer/director of "Boiler Room" has simply taken Oliver Stone's far superior 1987 film, "Wall Street," along with bits of James Foley/David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross" and fashioned a "new," or at least updated cautionary tale about sales and greed on Wall Street.

Although that's not necessarily a bad thing - after all, the stock market of the late 1990's turned a slew of young investors and workers into millionaires, creating something of another mini "me" decade that the '80s initially created - Younger not only borrows (or steals, lifts, rips off or pays homage to - depending on how you view things) material from those other films, but he goes so far as to have his characters here watch, worship and recite lines from Stone's film.

Of course, this certainly isn't the first or last time that clips from an older film have been/will be shown in a newer one. The approach here, however, is akin to Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange watching clips from the original 1933 "King Kong" while trying to figure out how to deal with the big ape who's shown up in the 1976 remake of the classic film. It's just something you're not supposed to do, especially when your film turns out to be a pallid imitation of the former.

While that's bad enough - and not only serves to remind the viewer of the better film but then reinforces the need for unfavorable comparisons - the novice filmmaker also borrows most of the plot from that other film. As such, we have a young man who's drawn by the allure of high dollar, high roller Wall Street types, only to discover that things aren't as upright as they seem. Then there's the strained father-son relationship (with the latter trying to impress the former who isn't happy with his son's new vocation), a visit by the authorities who want to bust the bad guys, and the supplemental love affair designed to introduce at least one female character into the proceedings.

The obvious difference between the films - beyond the novelty and subsequent plagiaristic elements - is that Younger is no Oliver Stone (especially in his heyday), Giovanni Ribisi is no Charlie Sheen (also during his heyday), and all of the bad but charismatic brokers in this film can't combine to equal Michael Douglas' Oscar-winning take on the slick and ultra manipulative Gordon Gekko character in that earlier film.

To be fair, Younger does infuse the proceedings with a great deal of energetic volatility, and delivers several well written and staged scenes, particularly those involving Ben Affleck as the motivational "greed is good" head recruiter and Vin Diesel as a slick broker doing his manipulative, hard sell sales bit over the phone. Those moments, especially the ones where the film shows the viewer how to do something - in this case, phone solicitation - are also audience pleasers and they do work quite well.

That said, I feel that the inclusion of rap music and jump cuts (where the images in one scene jump as if footage has been randomly removed) is unnecessary. It obviously plays far too much to the MTV-weaned crowd and by now that convention has become decidedly worn (as if that segment of the audience isn't intelligent enough to get the point of these characters feigning or being edgy and hip without making much of the first half of the film look like a rap/hip-hop music video at times). Younger obviously has talent, but needs to take a more subtle approach at telling his -- okay, Oliver Stone's story.

While the first half of the film works rather well - notwithstanding the aforementioned objections - the second half quickly loses steam as the standard conventions of the genre set in (the love affair going bad, the authorities swooping in and the protagonist finally figuring things out). Although "Wall Street" and especially the fabulous "The Firm" managed to take such typical happenings and twist and turn them into something captivating and highly entertaining, here they come off as not much more than the "same old, same old."

Most of that problem lies in the film's subplots. The whole bit about Seth and his relationship with his father, a federal judge, is severely misplayed and simply just doesn't work. Although in theory it might have seemed like a good complication to throw into the mix, in execution it horribly misfires, especially in a late scene where Ribisi tries to dredge up some tears for his character.

The same holds true for the whole Seth/Abby romance. While it's also present as a source for plot complications, it never once feels credible. Likewise, the whole bit portraying one of Seth's "victims" - a man who spends his family's life savings to buy bogus stock - stands out as being too "on the nose" and overly symbolic of the damage Seth and the firm are inflicting on others.

I also had a problem with Giovanni Ribisi ("The Other Sister," "Saving Private Ryan") as the lead character. While he's an okay actor in certain types of roles and does fit the bill here of an initially nebulous young man caught up in increasingly volatile surroundings, he just doesn't have what it takes to pull off the role and create a character that we wish will succeed (as compared to the similar roles played by Sheen in "Wall Street" or Cruise in "The Firm").

The film also suffers from the lack of a strong and central antagonist. While Vin Diesel ("Pitch Black," "Saving Private Ryan"), Nicky Katt ("The Limey," "A Time to Kill") and Ben Affleck ("Reindeer Games," "Good Will Hunting") do decent jobs in their various roles playing the firm's "bad guys," none stands out. Affleck gets the best bits in the Alec Baldwin type role (from "Glengarry Glen Ross"), but comes off feeling like a pinch hitter in that he only shows up every once in a while. Diesel, who is flat in his other release this week ("Pitch Black"), is rather good as the slimy broker, while Katt credibly plays a jealous and arrogant creep.

Supporting performances from the likes of Nia Long ("The Best Man," "Soul Food"), Ron Rifkin ("The Negotiator," "L.A. Confidential") and Tom Everett Scott ("The Love Letter," "That Thing You Do") are generally okay, but often suffer from underdeveloped and - in the case of Seth's father -- occasionally unbelievable character development.

Although the film has its moments and will probably play fairly well to the teen and early twenty-something audience who were only in elementary school when Stone's brilliant "Wall Street" was released, this film can't overcome the unfavorable comparisons to that picture from which it borrows far too heavily. As such, the derivative "Boiler Room" rates as just a 4.5 out of 10.




Reviewed February 8, 2000 / Posted February 18, 2000


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