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MOVIE REVIEW: 'The Wolf of Wall Street' is the weakest film of Scorsese's career

This Leonardo DiCaprio’s fifth film with Martin Scorsese

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Leonardo DiCaprio stars in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” (Special Photo: Paramount)

The Wolf of Wall Street

(R)

2 1/2 out of 4 stars

There are a great many people that both loved and hated Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” for exactly the same reasons. Coming out just a few years after “GoodFellas,” “Casino” told almost the same story in essentially the same manner. Some didn’t mind that “Casino” was basically “GoodFellas 2” because the first was so good. Others felt that Scorsese (along with returning author/screenwriter) Nicolas Pileggi were coasting on fumes and taking advantage of the audiences’ good will. All opinions were correct.

What’s that saying? Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me? If watching Scorsese do “GoodFellas 3” (minus Pileggi) doesn’t sound like a problem for you, then you’ll probably love “The Wolf of Wall Street” a whole bunch. While absent of murder, the Mob and violent carnage, it’s got everything else found in “GoodFellas” and “Casino” — sex, cocaine, rock ’n’ roll, financial malfeasance, hookers, booze, excess, character voice-overs and something we haven’t seen previously in a Scorsese movie: lots of Quaaludes.

In his fifth film under Scorsese’s direction, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the title character Jordan Belfort, the real-life whiz-kid whose first day on Wall Street was Black Monday in 1987. Having never lived through an “up” or a “fall,” Belfort immediately found himself on an even playing field with those far more experienced (read: grizzled) than he but also had some things they didn’t: a fresh perspective, unrelenting will and drive and an ability to recognize that “dog” or “penny” stocks were just as, if not more profitable than the blue-chip type.

On that first/last day, the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Belfort drank water and soaked in everything his Martini-chugging boss Mark Hanna (a caustic and hilarious Matthew McConaughey) had to say. Boiled down, it was look out for number one, milk the customers bone dry, have lots of sex with prostitutes and be prepared to become addicted to a great many liquids and illegal substances. A quick study and already predisposed to everything Hanna laid down, Belfort started his own penny stock-peddling boiler room and got real rich real fast.

A maverick in every sense of the word, Belfort could have probably gotten away with everything he did had he showed some level of self-restraint and concern for his future but the guy had no off switch, humility or respect for authority — particularly with the FTC and the FBI. When given a chance to walk away with a stiff slap on the wrist, Belfort only upped the ante thinking he was forever bulletproof.

For two rock solid hours, “Wolf” is Scorsese at the top of his familiar game. It is whip-fast and indulgent but fitting for the subject matter and always on the mark. When you’re telling a non-fictional story about crooked stock brokers with extreme talent and unquenchable desires that behave like hormone-enraged eighth-grade boys, going over the top makes sense. It’s frequently belly-aching funny, a gas to watch but also something of a chore to endure. Everybody on-screen is having way too much fun and this kind of fun can only sustain itself so long before either tedium or burn-out sets in. In this case, it’s both.

After downing a fistful of ‘ludes with his second-in-command Donnie (Jonah Hill), Belfort is told by his private eye to leave his home and make a call from a pay phone, the closest being at a country club minutes away. This is the point where Scorsese and longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker slow the action down to a literal crawl. The movie itself seems to be on Quaaludes and weeks in length. It moves at a snails’ pace with scenes that mean nothing going on forever and crackling action replaced by lots of monotonous, go-nowhere, rambling dialogue.

The fallout — discussed at length by the real Belfort in his first biography — is essentially ignored by the usually dependable screenwriter Terence Winter (“The Sopranos, “Boardwalk Empire”) — a guy who knows how to put a lot of information into small spaces of time.

To amp up the audience to such a degree only to pull the rug out with such a slog of a finish is not Scorsese’s style and the last hour of “Wolf” could arguably be considered the low-point in a career with next to no previous disappointments. The bad news is the greatest living director on the planet has delivered us the weakest film of his career. The minor good news is that it’s still a Scorsese movie and not a complete waste of time. (Paramount)