“You know a movie that’s better than you’d think? Boiler Room.” That’s a statement I’ve heard more than once over the years since its release, and now, I finally caved in and gave it a look. I think it’s the cast that makes everyone assume it’s going to be pretty ordinary. Giovani Ribisi in the leading role, Vin Diesel as a stockbroker, Jamie Kennedy made even more irritating than usual with the addition of a moustache, Scott Caan being all Scott Caan-ie, and a pre-directing renaissance Ben Affleck. All this in a movie about hot shot stock brokers doesn’t sound like a great combo, but I will say this, you know a movie that’s better than you’d think? Boiler Room.
First, the biggest shocker, Vin Diesel is by far the best thing about this movie. He can actually act, who’d have thunk it? But his more than decent performance is also cut down by the lack of character he gets to play. An exchange with Ribisi is a perfect example of just how deep most of these characters go. Ribisi asks the millionaire Diesel why he still lives with his mother. Diesel replies with a clueless, “What do you mean?” You see, this ruthless trader will do anything for a buck, but he still loves his family. Get it? Because if you don’t get it, you’d better pause the movie and make sure you get it before you move on. Because getting it will be imperative when Ribisi needs someone with even the smallest conscience to help him later. Got it? Good.
Affleck is another stand out, bringing some Baldwin-Glengarry Glen Ross energy to his scenes as the office manager without ever seeming like an out and out impression of Baldwin’s iconic scene. But the most… “Interesting” performance is that of Ribisi. He’s the protagonist, the main character, the guy we’re supposed to cheer for, but he makes a strange decision as an actor to portray the character of Seth Davis as a snivelling, marble mouth little weasel who can’t make eye contact with anyone for more than an instant. He also falls victim to the character development shorthand. On his first date with the office bombshell receptionist, he all but breaks down in tears, revealing his daddy issues. Sure, it helps get through some exposition about how he became the man he is, but it also makes you wonder why this woman would waste a second on him.
The father character is just as problematic. Flipping from embarrassment over his son, to concern, to pride, to hatred, to willingly risking his judgeship by getting involved in Ribisi’s dodgy dealings. Oh yeah, the word “judgeship” is bandied about more than once, like it’s a regular word regular people say and hear in regular, everyday life.
Just as glossed over is the scam being perpetrated by Ribisi and his cronies, why it’s bad and why we should give two shits. Thinking back, I’m not sure how Boiler Room fills two hours, but at the same time, I was never bored or frustrated while I watched. The frustration only set in (and continues to build) as I think about it after the fact. Even then, I can’t get away from one resilient thought. You know a movie that’s better than you’d think? Boiler Room.