Take away the high-wattage stars, the staggering budget and the celebratory nature of the thievery, and “The Wolf of Wall Street” would look something like “Americons,” an indie parable about greed, high-living and wrongdoing that led to the real estate/home mortgage meltdown.
It’s a short, curt and occasionally heavy-handed slap at the major villains of that era — the hustling, rule-breaking lenders and those who bought and shuffled around those iffy loans. And underneath it all is the warning that few then or now heeded, the lesson that nobody seemed to learn.
“When did these guys get so smart and how did their work suddenly become so valuable?” The answers, fading into the mists of time, were “They aren’t” and “They cheated.”
Beau Martin Williams stars as Jason Kelly, one-time wide receiver now reduced to being the doorman at a night club. That’s where Devin (Matt Funke) recognizes him and promises to change his life. One flight on the company jet later, Jason’s met the chief (Sam McMurray) of Wall Street Lending, who is “Wall Street” only in his contempt for competitors like WaMu and Countrywide (mentioned by name), rules, customers and any sucker he can talk into signing his Option ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgages) or investor he can get to buy them off his hands.
In a flash, Jason is in Los Angeles, learning the lingo, memorizing the phrases that lure people into buying, selling or refinancing houses using loans that Jason and his boiler room crew cook up. They falsify records, they sleep with sexy real estate agents who are in on the hustle. They gamble on the job, and after hours.
Thanks to Devin, Jason even talks an ex-teammate at the end of his NFL career (Trai Byers) into leveraging himself to the max on a new home.
Jason’s answer to, “You trust him, J.?” is just his first lie.
Director Theo Avgerinos skips through this morality tale quickly, and Williams, who also wrote the script, peppers conversations with enough jargon about “home equity extractions,” “mortgage backed securities” and “the Option ARM” to make “Americons” credible, if not quite wholly comprehensible.
Women are just blonds to be slipped in and out of swimsuits, using sex to further their careers. The men are vipers of various stripes, with Williams suitably confused as the newcomer in over his head.
Veteran character actor McMurray has the best speeches and most interesting scenes, making his CEO a class warrior and a master of “the illusion” of “The American Dream.”
The details are different, but the bottom line is so overly familiar as to make “Americons” feel, too often, like a movie we’ve seen before and a strident lecture we’re never going to pay attention to until the bottom drops out again.
Cast: Beau Martin Williams, Matt Funke, Sam McMurray, Trai Byers, Alyshia Ochse
Credits: Directed by Theo Avgerinos, screenplay by Beau Martin Williams. An Archstone release.
Running time: 1:21