Boiler Room
Starring: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Nicky Katt, Scott Caan, Ron Rifkin
Director:

Ben Younger

Writing credits: Ben Younger
Distributor: New Line Cinema * 118 minutes
Rated: R for strong language and some drug content
  (USA 2000)

Generations come and go, but greed is timeless. It's a message Hollywood has drummed home with alarming frequency over the decades, including the brand new, 21st-century version, BOILER ROOM. Don't expect many changes to the well-worn formula, though; The New York Stock Exchange gets a healthy dose of Gen-X amorality, but in the end, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

At least writer/director Ben Younger is up front about his plagar...er, inspirations. We are barely twenty minutes into BOILER ROOM when someone references (and quotes verbatim) GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. Later, a group of young stock traders watch Oliver Stone's WALL STREET, and they repeat the scenes word for word. These references seem less like homage and more like desperation; like other teen-oriented films that are drawn from other source material (CRUEL INTENTIONS, 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU), BOILER ROOM is both less interesting and less entertaining than its predecessors.

Which is not to say that BOILER ROOM doesn't have its charms. The film's greatest asset is the rising star Giovanni Ribisi, cast as the small time con artist Seth. Under pressure from his father (Ron Rifkin), Seth gives up his lucrative illegal home casino to become a stock broker. Why such a change? One of his casino customers, Greg (Nicky Katt), offers him an interview at JT Marlin, an upstart brokerage on Long Island, run by a charismatic leader (Tom Everett Scott). and populated by legions of young, hungry white boys eager to find fast wealth and, it is supposed, instant happiness. Seth falls for the firm's head secretary Abby (Nia Long) and pals around with the chief headhunter Chris (Vin Diesel), but his doubts about JT Marlin's legitimacy are strengthened which he begins to notice the shady and questionable deals happening all too frequently. Three guesses what happens when the FBI gets involved.

Raising BOILER ROOM above the genre-specific mire are a trio of strong performances. Ribisi, who first gained serious notoreity as a young recruit in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, hits every mark in Seth's transformation from nervous outsider to big-time player. Critics have already begun to hail this as his breakthrough role, and there's little doubt that stardom will shine on him sooner or later. The second performance of note is, get this, a cameo. Like Alec Baldwin at the beginning of GLENGARRY, there are occasional "be ruthless, get rich" training speeches given throughout BOILER ROOM by the gifted Ben Affleck. As JT Marlin's corporate trainer Jim Young, Affleck gets less than ten minutes of screen time, but fills each one with sadistic glee. As the only A-list star around these proceedings, Affleck manages to blow other performers off the screen, playing his blustery, crude dealmaker to his full potential. Viewers may find themselves wishing that his tiny role was, in fact, more a part of BOILER ROOM than it actually ends up being.

Perhaps the most interesting cast member, however, is Nia Long as Abby, the firm's secretary and love interest for Seth. Long is a fascinating and underrated actress, and her acceptance of the role of Abby is especially surprising. BOILER ROOM, it should be noted, is about young white turks, and the virulent racism, sexism, classism, anti-Semitism and homophobia comes racing off the screen almost every other minute. The film will manage to offend almost every minority in some way. Long is either making a political statement, or attempting to rise above the African-American films she has starred in to date. Either way, it's a smart move, and Long's natural talent blossoms in these unfamiliar surroundings. Like her excellent work in LOVE JONES, THE BEST MAN, and SOUL FOOD, her role here proves that she is an actress of extraordinary depth and range.

In the games that really white boys play, BOILER ROOM presents a study of ladders climbers that, in some way, is as old as the hills. Sex. Booze. Drugs. Bags of gold. But these boys aren't the amoral fraternity that the NYSE, or director Younger, would have you believe; they're more like a rowdy gang, barely above thug status, and the scams they pull on unsuspecting dupes aren't pretty, masterful, or admirable the way, say, Gordon Gecko was. Sure, these wrong-side-of-the-tracks kids pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. But so did Rocky Balboa. The tainted whiff of quick money is the difference, and in the end, it makes the characters unlikeable and unsympathetic. Getting their comeuppance is not only inevitable, it's welcome.

As for entertainment value, BOILER ROOM is a mild diversion thanks to some noteworthy and exceptional performances. Still, if taking a walk up Wall Street is your idea of a good time at the movies, do yourself a favor and rent the Real McCoy.

 

- Gabriel Shanks

Review text copyright © 2000 Gabriel Shanks and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

 

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