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Boiler Room   B-

New Line Cinema

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ben Younger
Writer: Ben Younger
Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Nicky Katt, Scott Caan, Ron Rifkin, Jamie Kennedy, Taylor Nichols, Bill Nichols, Tom Everett Scott, Ben Affleck, David Younger.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Everybody is looking for the quick and easy route to get rich these days. In the opening narration of Boiler Room, Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) tells us that Microsoft has more millionaire secretaries than any other company -- they took stock options over Christmas bonuses, a smart move. He also references late rapper Notorious B.I.G., who said you either gotta be selling crack or have a wicked jump shot. Seth has opted to sell the "white boy crack." Stocks.

Seth is a college dropout who runs an illegal casino from his apartment, "something for the college kids to do between classes." He makes a killing with the casino, but once his New York judge father (Ron Rifkin) finds out about it, Seth decides he has to find a legit way to make money so he can earn his father's respect. He gets a training position at a small Long Island firm called J.T. Marlin. They don't hire stockbrokers, they train new ones. Seth works his way up, becoming quite talented selling stocks over the phone to gullible clients. But Seth soon learns that J.T. Marlin may not be legit after all, and they might be selling stocks for companies that don't even exist, ripping off unwary investors.

Boiler Room was written and directed by Ben Younger, a 29-year-old who interviewed many real-life "boiler room" brokers as research for the film. He even applied for a job and got an interview at one himself. Maybe that's why the world he paints seems so vividly real. The rapid-fire dialogue, peppered with boiler room lingo, is dazzling and very funny. Much of the movie is a bunch of testosterone-fueled white guys in suits talking on phones, but these scenes are absolutely compelling. You can see how easily they manipulate their clients into buying stocks that they don't necessarily want, and the tragedy is that this really happens.

Seth's strained relationship with his father is quite effective. The scenes between them have a delicate power; you want his father to accept him, but it looks like he never will. But director Ben Younger sells us out near the end by throwing in a teary-eyed reconciliation scene between them (puh-leeze!).

Of course there's the unavoidable romantic subplot involving Seth and the firm's black secretary (Nia Long). The love story is underdeveloped and awkward. If you're gonna add a romantic subplot, do it right or don't do it at all.

Ben Affleck has a scene-stealing cameo as a head recruiter who schools the new trainees on how the firm works; he's got some of the wittiest dialogue in the movie. Vin Diesel (Pitch Black) plays a seasoned broker who takes a liking to Seth. Once again, Diesel shines, and you can bet that he's going places.

Boiler Room seems to have a lot to say about ambition and greed, but you may leave the theater wondering just what exactly the message was. That's not to say you won't enjoy it, though. Boiler Room is, for the most part, a funny and thought-provoking look into the world of money-hungry Generation-Xers. And Giovanni Ribisi's performance is excellent, one of the few human faces amidst all the money-hungry chaos.

Boiler Room is quite sad if you think about it.

Review published 03.10.2000.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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