Wall Street, Part Duh

AugustRunning time 88 minutes Written by Howard A. Rodman Directed by Austin Chick Starring Josh Hartnett, Adam Scott, Naomie Harris,

Running time 88 minutes
Written by Howard A. Rodman
Directed by Austin Chick
Starring Josh Hartnett, Adam Scott, Naomie Harris, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rip Torn, Robin Tunney, David Bowie

Worse still, there’s a deadly, amateurish infection going around called August, with yet another novocained performance by zombified Josh Hartnett as a dot-com Internet star named Tom Sterling, who invents a company called Landshark with his brother Joshua (Adam Scott). Nobody knows what Landshark does, but when Tom explains it, he says: “That’s so third quarter ’99. You want bleeding-edge, mission-critical, cross-platform robust scale. What you want is E. Pure E. Not E commerce. Not E business. Not click and mortar. Anything but that. E. Not old, not hired, not stepped on. Not one gram of E and 10 grams of baby laxative. Pure E. Josh knows E. I know E. That’s what Landshark does. And somehow when E changes, we’re there first on the shore. Beckoning. Is there anyone who can aggregate the way we can? I don’t think so, because if there was, I’d be there.” O.K., so now you know what you already don’t know in the first place and never will. With gibberish like that passing for dialogue (the movie is filled with it), no wonder Landshark is running out of capital and going down the drain—because obviously nobody has a clue what the company does.

The year is 2001. Nobody wants to bankroll cyberspace. Tom lives in his dot-com sandbox and dates multiple women, like Hugh Hefner in the ’60s; drives a Camaro convertible; and fixates on a black chick with a bizarre accent who has just returned from designing housing projects in Barcelona. Josh, the square brother, has a wife, a baby and a mortgage. The business is his life, and he blames Tom because it’s in lockup. Meanwhile, at the office, located in a warehouse on the Bowery, the Landshark staff members sit at their cute little Ikea desks, play solitaire on computers and eat Oreo cookies while their stock options evaporate. All of which gives Mr. Hartnett a chance to mouth brilliant lines like “Just because I’m smart doesn’t mean I’m stupid.” Wanna bet?

Oh, yes, there are parents (Rip Torn and Caroline Lagerfelt), aging Brooklyn hippies who see through Tom’s sham and make the mistake of asking what Landshark really does. Tom goes ballistic. “I grew up with cinder blocks, two-by-fours and five copies of Soul on Ice. You wanted to change the world? Stop the war? Tiananmen Square was a fax machine. Think what we’ll do now that we have the Web. And then it’s like, ‘Go tell the maid to dust the Godard poster.’” I mean, more pretentious, brain-busting argot has never been assembled in one film—or mumbled so fast by an actor who can scarcely say “Which way to the men’s room” with any coherence. It probably wouldn’t matter if you could understand what Mr. Hartnett, a graduate of the mashed-potato-mouth school of dramatic art, was saying anyway. But you do need an interpreter here. At the risk of driving you to the bottle, I can best express what I hate most about this plague by quoting more of Mr. Hartnett’s dialogue: “We’re at the forefront of a revolution in technology. You already know that. If I say what you already know I’m gonna say, then it’s like the hamster scurries and the wheel spins and at the end of the day you know we’re all still in the cage, right? So instead of that prepared shit, I’m just going to tell you what’s in my heart. You know what the problem is with—uh, I don’t even know what to call it—with our thing? The problem is, what are we doing? Are we making the world a less sucky place, or more sucky? Are we every day impacting the suckage?” I swear I copied this incomprehensible sludge word for word from a DVD. You think I could make up this stuff?

Or how about this? “What the Net is supposed to do—what the new broadband is supposed to do—what digital whatever is supposed to do—is increase choice. But what are we offering in the way of choice? AOL or Earthlink? Gates or Edison? Miller Lite or Coors? Bush or Gore? We help big greedy advertising agencies sell the useless products of massive, morally corrupt multinational corporations. We advise them on how to aggregate eyeballs. Have you ever seen the beginning of Un Chien Andalou? You know, with the eyeball and the straight razor? That’s what we do. Click here is over. I—whatever is over. Cross platform is over. Disintermediation is way over. The startup is over. Branding is so over. Dot-com and whatever it stands for is over. So what’s left is what we do.”

The chief problem with this mess, among many, is that it never bothers to tell you exactly what that is. The script threatens eternal pretentious palaver. (Impossible to believe it was written by the same Howard Rodman who did such an eloquent job on Savage Grace. How do you go from one of the best films of the year to what is now quite possibly the worst film of the same year?) The direction by somebody called Austin Chick gives the appearance of being phoned in from an Internet bar in another town. If he has any talent behind the camera, this movie is not going to move it up a notch. The acting is uniformly abysmal. After Pearl Harbor, Mozart and the Whale, The Black Dahlia and Hollywood Homicide, Josh Hartnett continues his history of making the worst movies of any actor still working in films today. He’s like a pretty vacant lot, with all the energy and charisma of a dead spark plug. August may not be his worst movie, an award still held by Lucky Number Slevin, but it’s right down there on the bottom of the sludge heap. The atrocity ends when Landshark is bought by David Bowie, of all people; Mr. Hartnett is fired; and the camera backs away from him, hunched over a pinball machine. Life continues, and so does garbage.

rreed@observer.com Wall Street, Part Duh