“Billionaire Boys Club” is probably the last new Kevin Spacey film we’re going to be seeing in a while. So either enjoy it or avoid it with that in mind.
The film is a so-so rendering of a remarkable real-life story from the 1980s. And, under different circumstances, it probably would have been a small to middling theatrical release. Instead, it has gone straight to video on demand, the movie equivalent of an upturned collar, a floppy hat and sunglasses. With an expected opening in August in theaters.
Spacey’s career has unraveled since allegations of sexual assault surfaced in October. He was dropped from his television show. “House of Cards,” and erased from a co-starring role in the Ridley Scott feature “All the Money in the World.” Netflix canceled the release of “Gore,” in which he plays Gore Vidal. And the fallout continues. He is now under investigation by the London police for multiple counts of sexual assault.
Thus, his appearance in “Billionaire Boys Club” cannot be regarded as Spacey’s attempt to bounce back. You can’t do any bouncing until you hit the ground, and there’s no telling where the basement is on this story.
Rather, “Billionaire Boys Club,” which was filmed 2½ years ago, is either the last exhalation of a career.
That’s already dead or the last movie from this first phase of Spacey’s career. (If there is a second phase, don’t expect it anytime soon.)
Even before the wave of revelations, it would have been difficult to mistake Spacey for a lovely fellow. There’s a fascinating 2014 documentary called “Now: In the Wings on a World Stage,” about his Old Vic production of “Richard III” and the subsequent world tour. The documentary was produced by Spacey and seems to have been intended as a propaganda piece. Yet his company always looks uncomfortable in his presence, and when they talk about how much they like him. They look like they’re in a hostage video.
Still, there’s no question about it: Spacey is very good at playing the bad guy.
He has a supporting role in “Billionaire Boys Club” but dominates every moment of every scene in which he appears. He plays a con man, Ron Levin, who posed as a successful financier. And became an idol and mentor to a group of burgeoning young crooks, involved in a Ponzi scheme.
There are facts in dispute with regard to the actual Billionaire Boys Club. So the first thing director and co-writer James Cox had to do was decide whose version of events to tell. Cox’s solution is peculiar: He tells the story from the point of view of Joe Hunt (Ansel Elgort), but he has Dean Karny (Taron Egerton) narrate the film in voice-over.
In the early ‘80s, Hunt and Karny, barely out of college, started an investment firm called BBC, promising its clients 50 percent returns. Soon people were taking out second mortgages and raiding their kids’ college funds just to give these guys their money.
“Billionaire Boys Club,” in its first minutes, is very good at presenting the allure of money, as well as the allure of Southern California.
Hunt and Karny go to a nightclub that, from their eyes, looks like a fantasy land of sex and personal arrival. As they begin to make money, they replicate this vision in lavish, frenetic parties. There are palm trees and swimming pools, the iconography of success in America.
When they meet Levin, Spacey gives the movie a boost, running roughshod over the other actors just as Levin dominates Hunt and Karny. Spacey looks like he’s slumming, like he knows he can do anything, and so his performance is filled with little spontaneous touches — as when he makes a strong point and then, for emphasis, grabs a dog’s snout and shakes it. Like Levin, Spacey is just playing, not taking anything seriously, and it works for the role.
According to the film, Hunt and Karny never intended, at least initially, to be crooks — especially not Hunt.
But bad decisions involving thousands led to more bad decisions involving tens of thousands. Yet why, if Hunt was so concerned with his investors’ money and really did intend to set things right, did he keep buying cars and Armani suits? Why did he rent an enormous house? Elgort plays Hunt as a decent person getting swept up in a storm, but most of the storm was of his own making. Something here doesn’t make sense.
Speaking of not making sense, the financial end of the story is difficult to follow. At one point, Hunt goes into a room with some company’s shareholders and walks out a few hours later with millions of dollars. Yet in the next scene, his own company is broke, and they’re panicking. As Hunt’s life unravels, so does the movie, though the story maintains a certain baseline of interest just by virtue of being sordid.
Rating: R (for language throughout, drug use, some violence and sexual content)
Genre: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: James Cox
Stars: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Taron Egerton
Written By: Captain Mauzner, James Cox
In Theaters: Aug 17, 2018 Limited
On Disc/Streaming: Sep 18, 2018
Runtime: 100 minutes
Studio: Vertical Entertainment
CRITIC REVIEWS FOR BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB:
Cox has managed to recruit great actors only to elicit bafflingly melodramatic and stilted work. Emma Roberts, as an aspiring artist and the only female character with more than a couple speaking lines, is particularly wasted.
The movie delves into a weak exploration of Hunt’s private life.
As Hunt’s life unravels, so does the movie, though the story maintains a certain baseline of interest just by virtue of being sordid.
S. Indra Sathiabalan
While this version may actually be closer to the real-life incidents that took place, it is still a bit of a draggy affair.