BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: James Cox

Stars: Ansel Elgort, Taron Egerton, Kevin Spacey, Emma Roberts, Jeremy Irvine, Thomas Cocquerel, Ryan Rottman, Bokeem Woodbine, Barney Harris, Billie Lourd, Judd Nelson.

Kevin Spacey, Ansel Elgort, and Taron Egerton in Billionaire Boys Club (2018)Oscar winning actor Kevin Spacey’s fall from grace was quite spectacular. Not only was his performance as John Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s drama All The Money In The World deleted and his performance reshot with the role filled by Christopher Plummer, but he was fired from his hit tv series House Of Cards and his character was killed off. But one film from that time has survived the purge, and the crime drama/morality tale Billionaire Boys Club serves as Spacey’s unfortunate cinematic swan song.

Billionaire Boys Club is based on a true story of 80s excess, hedonism and hubris. In 1983 a group of twentysomething college graduates from Los Angeles established a get rich quick investment scheme that netted them a fortune. But it was little more than a Ponzi scheme that secured them a lavish life style until it all fell apart in spectacular fashion. The financial house of cards ended up with betrayals, violence, murder and federal indictments.

The scheme was the brainchild of a pair of young Turks in Joe Hunt (Ansel Elgort), who had a gift for commodities trading, and his best friend Dean Karny (Taron Egerton, from Kingsman, the awful recent take on Robin Hood, etc), a tennis pro who is selling luxury imported cars to wealthy clients. Hunt was something of an outsider amongst his college colleagues though. While they all came from a life of wealth and privilege and trust funds, Hunt came from a single parent working class background from the suburb of Van Nuys, and he was only able to afford his college education due to a scholarship. Hunt and Karny initially attracted small investments from the families of other wealthy students.

But it was only when they came into the orbit of Ron Levin (Spacey), a fast talking and seemingly wealthy Hollywood player and friend to the rich and famous, that the Billionaire Boys Club really took off. Levin became Hunt’s mentor and primary investor. But Levin himself was something of a notorious conman and hustler, who eventually swindled an estimated $4million from the club’s coffers. Hunt himself was charged with subsequently killing Levin, while Karny turned state’s evidence in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

The story has been previously told in a two part 1987 miniseries created for television which starred Judd Nelson (a former member of the 80s so-called “brat pack” who starred in films like The Breakfast Club, etc) as Hunt. In a nice ironic piece of casting, Nelson plays Hunt’s father Ryan here.

The film has been directed by James Cox (Wonderland, etc), who co-wrote the screenplay with his long-time collaborator Captain Mauzner. Cox spent several months researching the story, and he based the screenplay on court documents, oral transcripts, and several published accounts of the events.  This is Cox’s second film in fifteen years, and his direction lacks any sense of urgency. Cinematographer J Michael Munro bathes the film in an 80s aesthetic with montages of fast cars, slick suits and snorting cocaine. But as a tale of financial shenanigans it seems derivative and lacks the insight and texture of films such as Wall Street and The Wolf Of Wall Street.

Reunited with his Baby Driver co-star, Elgort brings a slick youthful energy and enthusiasm to his role as Hunt, but he is a rather unlikeable and selfish, shallow character. Egerton, who will play Elton John in Rocket Man, the upcoming biopic of the singer, also brings energy to his performance, and he is also the film’s unreliable narrator. Spacey excels at playing the bad guy, and here he chews the scenery at every opportunity, mincing and camping it up a treat as the duplicitous and egotistical Levin, a character that seems dangerously close to the actor’s off-screen persona. With the exception of the three leads and Emma Roberts, who plays Hunt’s conscience-ridden girlfriend Sydney, the rest of the characters are a rather bland and forgettable lot who leave little impression on the material. They are played by the likes of Jeremy Irvine (War Horse, etc), Thomas Cocquerel (In Like Flynn, etc) and Cary Elwes, who appears in a brief cameo as Andy Warhol.

It is a bit of a pity that an actor of Spacey’s calibre will now be remembered more for his off-screen indiscretions and sexually predatory behaviour than his many powerful on screen performances.

★★☆

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