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Boiler Room

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Boiler Room

Starring: Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Affleck
Director: Ben Younger
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: February 2000
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Brad Rowe, Emily Procter, Ron Livingston, Amanda Peet, Sean Patrick Flanery

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Pulsating with puissance, throbbing with testosterone, "Boiler Room" deserves the comment it received from critic Ray Pride who calls it "a slick, dick-swinging diversion." A first feature for writer-director Ben Younger--who spent a year interviewing workers in our nation's so-called boiler rooms--this debut is going to be a tough act for the man to follow.

The classic movie about the world of stocks and bonds is, of course, Oliver Stone's 1987 "Wall Street," an unsubtle but compelling foray into the notion that greed is good. The youthful, vibrant, mostly conscience-free brokers in Younger's movie do not disagree in the slightest. But "Boiler Room" brings the highly commercial classic of thirteen years ago down to a level that could be appreciated by its expected demographics without dumbing down the plot scheme. Don't think that the hip-hop score is thrown in arbitrarily to appeal to a younger, more urban audience. The rap music symbolizes the psychological construct of the players in this game of chance. Almost unanimously young, suburban, white males, they nonetheless picture themselves as a cosmopolitan, sophisticated, hip and thoroughly modern group of Wall Street tycoons who just happen to work in the sticks of Long Island an hour away from the #6 Fulton Street stop on the IRT Lex line.

Like Michael Mann's "The Insider," this film aims not simply at a single industry but serves as an indictment of American capitalism in general--a system whose viva-yo spirit of "What's-in-it-for-me-and-damn-the-public" generates big bucks for the ethically-challenged while destroying the physical and financial health of its victims. The CEO's of Big Tobacco spout long noses with their insistence that their weed is not addictive: the hustlers selling snake oil miracles in shady, obscure brokerage houses are their epigonous disciples.

In Giovanni Ribisi--who comes across as a mousy guy with a chip on his shoulder, especially eager to prove himself to the world--Younger has found the ideal protagonist. As Seth David, Ribisi performs in the role of a 19-year-old college dropout who runs a successful but illegal casino in his home. Eager as a puppy to please his acerbic dad Marty (Ron Rifkin), Seth is determined to show his old man that though the kid was once brutally smacked by him for falling from his bicycle and thereafter treated with relative indifference, he can achieve on his own and make his father proud. But Marty, a federal judge, is merely disgusted by the boy's dabbling in illegal gambling--which he feels threatens his own respectable position in the judiciary. When Seth takes a job as a trainee with a Long Island brokerage house, J.T. Marlin, he finally succeeds in making his dad proud--for a time.

"Boiler Room" follows the fast-moving adventures of this young and acquisitive everyman in the bowels of the boiler room, where the trainees are lectured in the style of "Glengarry Glen Ross"'s honcho (played in that movie by Alec Baldwin). Repeatedly cajoled and motivated by the firm's 27-year-old multi-millionaire, Jim (Ben Affleck) that you WILL make your first million in three years, these wet-behind- the-ears agents don't give a damn that the stock they're pushing is backed by failing or non-existent companies. The movie serves as a warning to each of us to resist the entreaties made by telemarketers--who have an answer for every rebuttal you can make to their products. Younger appears to advise us, when under the hard sell, to "just hang up" (to paragraph Nancy Reagan), though women who answer the phone need not worry. Among this company's rules is never to "pitch the bitch," that is, never try to sell to women. Women are implicitly harder to con than men and will pester the hell out of the salesmen the first time something goes wrong with their stock. As you listen to the egregiously pushy phone banter of these snake-oil telemarketers, you've got to get a big charge out of their sheer cockiness--while simultaneously deploring their white- collar criminality.

These young guys may look like suburban wimps, but Younger makes clear that their high-tension profession instills them with tough-guy, racist, homophobic attitudes. They think nothing of beating up a large dude in a bar who makes threatening noises to one of their number; they loudly insult a gay man in Tribeca's trendy Odeon Restaurant; they exchange ethnic and religious pejoratives to one another on their work floor; and in more than one instance they act as though fired up by a Fascist provocateur--marching loudly to receptions provided by their big boss, Michael (played charmingly by Tom-Hanks lookalike Tom Everett Scott).

The movie has some minor flaws. Seth's dad is increasingly concerned that his son's illegal casino activities are a threat to his own position as a federal judge. However, we often hear of celebrities whose sons and daughters are coke-heads--situations irrelevant to their own tenure on the job. Also the movie sets a new record for the use of the most obnoxious of all English-language expressions, "ya- know"--which is uttered thirty times at the very least. Other than these civils, heck, this movie is a gas.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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