Boiler Room (2000)
Directed by Ben Younger
Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Nicky Katt, Scott Caan, Ron Rifkin, Jamie Kennedy, Taylor Nichols, Bill Sage, Tom Everett Scott, Ben Affleck.
2000 118 minutes
Rated: (for strong language and some drug content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 18, 2000.
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.
©2000 by Dustin Putman