Save for Michael Douglas's deservedly iconic barnburner of a performance as the oily arch-capitalist Gordon Gekko, the 1987 film Wall Street is not particularly good, nor is it particularly bad. Its new sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, is not particularly good.

Conceived before the 2008 economic meltdown, and massively retooled to adjust for The World In Which We Now Live, Money Never Sleeps is a whole lot of things all at once: a roman à clef vaguely recalling the basic scope of how we ended up here; a character drama centered on the question of whether a leopard can change its spots; the latest attempt by whatever cruel god rules American filmmaking to establish Shia LaBeouf as a viable actor; a critique of the increase in reckless consumerism in America over the last 30 or so years; and most presently and most obnoxiously, a lecture on how, in fact, you idiot people all misread the first movie, we weren't trying to actually say that "greed is good". SEE, HE'S STANDING RIGHT THERE GIVING ANOTHER SPEECH JUST LIKE IN THE FIRST MOVIE ONLY NOW HE'S SUGGESTING THAT GREED IS BAD, DO YOU GET IT NOW?

The mere thought of trying to actually recap the plot is daunting in the extreme, but basically: Gekko (still, obviously, Douglas) gets out of jail in 2001, and is conspicuously not met by his estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who in 2008 is running a minor left-wing news website and having schmoopy cuddletimes with fresh-faced Wall Street player Jacob Moore (LaBeouf), who works at the investment bank Keller Zabel (the stand-in for Lehman Brothers), where he is mentored by that company's aged co-founder, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), who throws himself under a subway car the day after his company is driven into the ground over the revelation that its profits were made up largely out of wishes and unicorns, which fact was forced into the open thanks to the scheming of his former partner and current nemesis, Bretton James (Josh Brolin) of Churchill Schwartz (a veiled Goldman Sachs), who also happens to be a former partner and current nemesis of none other than Gordon Gekko. Also, Gekko wants to reconnect with Winnie, and Jake wants to be Gekko's protégé, and Winnie blames her dad for her brother's suicide.

First things first: the drama of watching a fundamentally decent idealist like Jake Moore trying to juggle a lot of balls while the economy falls apart just plain isn't as much fun as the operatic grandeur of the first film, where Charlie Sheen played a tabula rasa torn between the forces of good and evil. Secondly: there is a rich drama to be found in the story of a young woman who hated her father for being a Wall Street whiz kid, now finding herself attracted to a scrubbed-up younger version of the same man, and Money Never Sleeps waves in its direction as it speeds past. But that's as may be.

The great problem with Money Never Sleeps is not that it fails, for in many isolated moments and even stretches, it is quite a thing to see. The problem is that the film can never make up its mind how it wants to be, and so the inexcusably long 133-minute running time finds the movie shuttling from one tonal register to another, wildly aimless, never quite deciding which element of the plot to privilege, never knowing whether it blames the government, the banks, or just the faceless fact of unregulated capitalism for the global financial crisis.

Aw, but how silly of me to say "the film" doesn't know what it wants, when I quite clearly mean that Oliver Stone doesn't know what he wants. This should surprise no-one who has been paying attention.

The case of Oliver Stone is a fascinating and troublesome one, which is just as it should be, given how fascinating and troublesome most of the movies he's directed are. This must be said at the outset: of his recent output, a trio of movies based upon recent American history with titles beginning with the letter "W", Money Never Sleeps is - though no return to the form of his glory days - a damn sight more energetic and compelling than the self-destructively insular, thickly melodramatic World Trade Center, or the stiff, dismayingly conventional George Bush biopic W. It's obviously the case that the Stone directing Money Never Sleeps remembers being the Stone who directed JFK and Natural Born Killers and even the original Wall Street; but now, he's not terribly good at it.

Stylistically, the film is hodgepodge - not a zesty, enlivening, bracing hodgepodge, like JFK, but a confused, nasty, "throw everything against the wall and pray that some of it sticks" hodgepodge, in which soaring, computer-aided tracking shots up the side of buildings compete for dominance with inserts of metaphorical dominoes falling, melodramaticshots of Langella's ghostly presence with the antsy edge of David Byrne and Brian Eno's clutch of new songs, and - because why the hell not? - an old-timey iris effect. Boardroom scenes are shot with the hushed solemnity of a funeral, while Jake's loopy real-estate speculator mom is presented as a comic broadside against Long Island's middle class, both in the garish details of her dress and in Susan Sarandon's all-out performance. Although, I don't mean to harsh on Sarandon, one of the few performers that Stone actually knows how to use well (Eli Wallach, as a massively peculiar Wall Street elder, is another; Douglas, of course, goes without saying). In a film where Langella's intensely focused work is given less attention than LaBeouf's washed-out reactions (seriously - why are people still casting him?), and Mulligan gives a performance that is truly great around the edges but mostly requires her to cry all the damn time, and Brolin is just sort of... onscreen... it doesn't do to belittle the moments of acting that actually click 100%.

As I was saying: it's all over the place, and it reads as scattered, more than anything else, an impression not helped at all by the entirely unfocused political argument at its heart, which is clearly anti- "destroying the economy", but isn't terrible coherent otherwise (and anyone who can square the rest of it, I dare you to explain Charlie Sheen's cameo, which at a minimum makes not the slightest trace of sense in regard to his character's arc in the first Wall Street).

What the heck. It's an Oliver Stone movie, which means that strict coherence, thematically or stylistically, was never a serious option, and at least parts of it work pretty well: some of the acting, like I said; the opening scene which reveals the devil-may-care Gekko of the first movie is now a worn-out, lonely old man - in fact, just about everything with Gekko is pretty good, unsurprisingly (though there's not enough of it), until the profoundly unconvincing climax, which requires not one, but two characters to act entirely against everything we know about them. And some of the cinematography, courtesy of the routinely extraordinary Rodrigo Prieto, is all that you could hope for, rendering New York as variously, a treasure box, a gritty slagpile, a place of joy, or a place of danger. Though the quality of the cinematography is generally held back by some of the most conspicuous and ill-considered digital intermediate I've seen in some months.

And, insofar as this story that is so explicitly and ham-fistedly about the dangers of being greedy and letting others encourage you in your greed, the lifestyle-porn depiction of the rich people's world of 2008 is gorgeous. If that doesn't say all there is to say about Money Never Sleeps, then I just don't know what.