Imagine drilling — let’s say boring — a tunnel from the Kansas Electronic Exchange to the New York Stock Exchange.
Now imagine watching a movie about it.
Yes, it’s just about that exciting.
Vincent Zaleski ( Jesse Eisenberg) is a stock trader with big ideas that can be measured in milliseconds. If he can just get that tunnel drilled through a thousand miles of backyards, swamps, farms, and mountains, thread a fiber-optic cable through it, and link the two exchanges, he can transmit data on stock prices 17 milliseconds faster than the competition, and reap staggering financial rewards.
Vincent and his cousin Anton (an excellent Alexander Skarsgård) work for a New York trading company run by ruthless CEO Eva Torres (Salma Hayek), a silver-maned Cruella de Wall Street. Anton is big, lumbering, a techie savant; Vincent is small, driven, a visionary — they are the Lenny and George of this movie, if Lenny were a computer genius. When they leave Eva’s employ to pursue Vincent’s crazy dream, she warns them that anything developed in Anton’s oversized, balding cranium while he was under her roof belongs to her. She’ll get them, and their little dog, too. And the game of industrial espionage and sabotage is afoot.
As you can imagine, there’s got to be the occasional diversion from all that drilling. If you know your movies, you know that a main character’s persistent stomach pains are likely to be something more than food poisoning. There is also likely to be, if the plot takes a married man far from home for an extended period of time, a lonely bar with a sympathetic waitress. In this case, however, Canadian writer-director Kim Nguyen (War Witch) supplies a scene that upends our expectations. It’s a bit far-fetched, but its payoff is a lesson in morality, not a fall from grace.
The tunneling project is being bankrolled by a smooth white-haired Wall Street predator (Frank Schorpion) who has tons of money but wants more. His greed sets him up for a fall, and in fact, nobody in this movie is terribly likable. The movie’s nod toward making Vincent more human is to have him offer to buy Anton’s little daughters an ice cream cone when all this is over.
How much time are we talking about in this cockamamie project? Seventeen milliseconds is about a single flap of a hummingbird’s wing. The payoff could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The money at stake is what is supposed to provide the excitement in this techno-thriller. But it’s somebody else’s money, and it’s hard to get worked up about it.