Not So Hot

'Bolier Room' has the greed-driven Wall Street atmosphere down cold, but even that can't make up for a lukewarm plot.

February 18, 2000|By ANN HORNADAY | ANN HORNADAY,SUN FILM CRITIC

Boiler Room" gets off to an intriguing start, but there's less here than meets the eye. Made with pumping energy and visual brio by first-time filmmaker Ben Younger, this morality tale of 1990s greed and ambition is derivative, but honestly so. It wears its references on its sleeve, actually quoting David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross" and paying inventive homage to Michael Douglas' famous monologues in "Wall Street."

Throw in a little bit from "Fight Club" and even Jay McInerney's novel "Bright Lights, Big City," and you get the idea of "Boiler Room," which is supposed to capture the current epoch of wild stock markets, newly minted millionaires and twentysomething amorality. Giovanni Ribisi stars as Seth Davis, a 19-year-old college dropout who hopes to make $1 million by running an illegal casino out of his Queens apartment.

One night Greg (Nicky Katt) visits the casino, and Seth is instantly impressed with his sharp suit and Ferrari. They are the spoils of the stock war, the trenches of which are the "boiler rooms" of Wall Street, where hungry young brokers make hundreds of cold calls a day, selling stocks to unsuspecting clients.

Greg suggests that Seth apply at his firm, J. T. Marlin, which isn't on Wall Street but in suburban Long Island. When Seth arrives for his interview, he finds that J. T. Marlin isn't a conventional finance firm, a point brought home by a drill sergeant of a recruiter (Ben Affleck). Seth joins, and quickly learns the truth behind his colleagues' sudden wealth.

"Boiler Room" is blessed with some outstanding performances, among them Ribisi's, who plays Seth with a convincing amalgam of innocence and avarice, and Vin Diesel's, who has the film's most electrifying scenes as Marlin's most flamboyant and charismatic executive. Younger is well-served also by Ron Rifkin, who plays Seth's father, a judge who commands his family from a stern remove. ("We don't have a relationship, Seth," he tells his son. "We're not dating.")

And the filmmaker clearly knows this world, which he spent a year researching, and its colorful lingua franca, in which "openers" vie to see which one can land a "whale."

Where "Boiler Room" falls down is its plot, which hinges on some implausibilities involving Seth's love interest (a pretty receptionist played by Nia Long) and his father, who undergoes a bizarre conversion toward the film's end.

What could have been a taut slice of contemporary anthropology turns out to be a mawkishly resolved melodrama. "Boiler Room" is strong on atmosphere, but filmgoers looking for the definitive movie of the moment will have to wait.

`Boiler Room'

Starring Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Nicky Katt

Directed by Ben Younger

Rated (strong language and some drug content)

Running time 120 minutes

Released by New Line Cinema

Sun score **

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