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Boiler Room

Risky Business

By Jumaane Jeffries

Written and directed by Ben Younger

Produced by Suzanne Todd and Jennifer Todd

A New Line Cinema film

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

Rated R

You are thrust into a world of high-stakes brokers who learn to master their trade at an upscale office by day, only to fully engage in the role of common hooligans by night. The atmosphere is established by cheap suits, crass jokes, and slicked-back hair, and hip-hop surprisingly sets the tone. And then you wonder ... “This is Wall Street?”

No, this isn’t Wall Street, despite the proficiency with which hotshot broker Chris (Vin Diesel) emulates one. This is Boiler Room, a gritty, revealing look at the business world from the very bottom, in which the players are willing to go even lower.

Boiler Room is told from the carefree, matter-of-fact point of view of Seth (Giovanni Ribisi), a recent college dropout, who earns his living rather successfully -- yet illegally -- running a casino out of his own home. For this, he is a symbol of disappointment to his parents, especially his father (played by Ron Rifkin). His longtime friend Greg (Nicky Katt) offers a “better” alternative: an apprenticeship at the small brokerage firm of J.P. Marley.

Predictably, Seth makes waves throughout the firm, gradually finding success both personally and professionally. He accomplishes so much only to discover the price that others have paid for his and his firm’s actions. As he learns more about his “prosperous” occupation, it appears to him that he is destined to pay a price of his own.

The movie begins in the middle of the story, showing the benefits of being among an elite group of stockbrokers. The opening scene establishes Seth, a stoic, deep-thinking master of his domain, compared to his counterparts. When we see Seth’s life before his employment, we learn of his prowess as a businessman, albeit an illegitimate one.

However, the tone of the movie is incredibly stagnant from the point of Seth’s employment, even as the true intentions of the firm reveal themselves. The majority of the middle part of the movie relies heavily on day-to-day situations, dialogue (which is admittedly witty at times), and the movie’s subtle use of symbolism. Before the movie even began, the image of dead presidents in the New Line Cinema logo gave a hint at the film’s clever and evocative use of symbolism.

It is fitting, then, that the most influential symbol in the movie is the character of Debbie, played by Nia Long. Debbie in the walnut is an otherwise homogenous loaf of good ol’ boy pound cake, something that only Seth attempts to understand. I found her thematic role in the storyline to be perhaps a bit too large and crammed, as she was also the only character of non-European descendance, and the only female presence, as well as the love interest and potential partner of crime. Despite such pressure, Long turned in an effective performance.

First time writer/director Ben Younger delivers an intriguing premise. It isn’t exactly very thrilling (the movie bills itself as a thriller) until very close to the end. The various family dilemmas add to the suspense, but it could have been increased by augmenting the roles of the FBI agents and increasing the tension between Seth and Greg. The often jerky camera-work integrates both well and awkwardly with the hip-hop tracks that set this movie’s cash-rules-everything-around-me tone.

The plot works to an extent: Only your basic intuition tells you that something is askew about J.P. Marley’s operations. If not, the speeches of Ben Affleck (in a whimsical cameo effort) can provide the necessary insight. (After all, the thought of fledgling brokers becoming millionaires within three years of working at a second-rate firm is rather ridiculous, isn’t it?) The trio of Katt, Diesel, and Ribisi, while having more peculiar names than this year’s Super Bowl teams, hold their own. Businesslike Ribisi tells it like it is: “I don’t want to be an innovator, I just want to make a quick and easy buck ... I just want to get in.”

And then, like hanging up on a potential client, he leaves the audience hanging.

Boiler Room is a verbally clever, fairly decent movie, by no means to be forgotten, but by most accounts, inconsequential. In the end, when Seth takes off full of “what-ifs,” I was left with a bunch of “what-thens.” I enjoyed the ride, even though it was too smooth for a “thriller.” Nevertheless, there isn’t another movie out there that probes into Wall Street thug life, or at least, none like this.