29-year-old director Ben Younger's "Boiler Room" has already been heavily
touted as an all-twentysomething version of 1987's "Wall Street," and even
1992's "Glengary Glen Ross." A morality tale about greed, corruption, and
heartless dishonesty within a crooked stockbroking firm located way out on
Long Island, our 19-year-old college drop-out protagonist, Seth Davis
(Giovanni Ribisi), is not exactly what you would call an angel, either.
Holding an illegal amateur casino outside of his home's basement in Queens,
Seth is rolling in the dough and enjoying every second of it, until one night
he meets gambler Greg (Nicky Katt), who makes him realize he can't waste his
whole life doing this.
Before long, Seth has joined Greg and a slew of other thriving young men at
the high-pressured, cutthroat brokerage firm of J.T. Marlin. Promised by the
firm's 27-year-old head recruiter, Jim Young (Ben Affleck), to be making a
million dollars within the initial three years of working there, Seth begins
to get his first real taste of the outside adult world, and starts hanging
out with some of his coworkers, including the understanding Chris (Vin
Diesel) and hot-tempered Richie (Scott Caan). Out of all of his new friends,
some of which he obviously doesn't fit in with, Seth is able to open up the
most with Abby (Nia Long), the African-American receptionist who has decided
to stay at the all-white firm because of her own generous paychecks, which
help her to take care of her ill mother. It doesn't take too much time for
Seth to realize that the employees of J.T. Marlin are fraudulent stockbrokers
who knowingly are taking the money of innocent, potential clients, and the
worse thing is, Seth discovers he is turning out just like them.
Littered with a soundtrack of rap music in a motion picture made up almost
entirely of white males, but which adds an unexpected edge to certain
memorable moments, "Boiler Room" is a drama about a group of people who are
rotten to the core, without any qualms about being deceitful and uncaring,
just as long as they are making some quick bucks; and a few select souls who
are the conscious of the film--people who may also do things wrong within the
course of the picture, but who are able to at least recognize their mistakes.
Equipped with a superfluous editing style that would be more at home on MTV
or in a relatively innocent comedy like 1999's "Detroit Rock City," sticks
out like a sore thumb here. With flashy jump-cuts and shots that purposefully
match the music, editor Chris Peppe does his job professionally but it was
unwise for director Younger to decide on such a distracting approach.
"Boiler Room" takes place in a savagely cold environment, but the film is not
without its dramatic character moments for Seth, particularly in the scenes
with his unflaggingly disapproving and stern father (Ron Rifkin). Oddly,
then, one of the film's major pitfalls is its resolutely sterile emotions.
Even when we are supposed to invest our interest in Seth, as well as his
relationships with his father and Abby, the whole movie has a strangely
detached feeling to it, and while a few of the performances are top-notch
(okay, only Ben Affleck's cockily assured multimillionaire has the ability to
grab you by the throat every time he appears), the rest of the cast and
writer-director Younger never seem to fully have their hearts in the material.
As the undoubted central character of Seth, Giovanni Ribisi is an offbeat
performer without the Hollywood-style good looks or leading-man potential,
but who does his job respectably. Best in his less demanding moments, Ribisi
ultimately does not, however, pull off the emotional breakdown sequence with
his father, which feels like it's right out of Acting 101. The fresh
appearance of Nia Long, as Abby, is appreciated, but she is generally
underutilized, and the romantic subplot that is sparked between Seth and she
has not an ounce of chemistry or passion, nor is it even necessary or come
with a satisfying payoff.
But the disappointing wrap-up of their relationship is apparently only in
staying with the rest of the film. "Boiler Room" had enough of my rooting
attention to get a marginal pass from me throughout its running time, but the
finale, to put it mildly, is a bust. Setting itself up for so very much more
than actually is present, not only is the character arc of Seth predictable,
but the way all of the elements around him are dealt with is an unconvincing
cop-out, leaving you in the theater commenting to yourself: "I just dedicated
two hours of my life to a movie that led up to that?" Filmmaker Ben Younger
set out to make a thought-provoking rumination on the power of money and the
people it affects, but all he really has done is made a motion picture that,
for all of its potential, never breaks away from being merely skin-deep.
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman