Have patience. This is kind of a long story.
Billionaire Boys Club, a fact-based film about two murders that occurred back in the greed and cocaine-filled 80s, was first announced in 2010. After five years of pre-production, the film started shooting in 2015. It featured up-and-coming stars Ansel Elgort and Taron Egerton in the lead roles and Emma Roberts in a key supporting role. It also featured a certain two-time Oscar-winning actor, who we will talk about shortly. There was speculation that Billionaire Boys Club could be an Oscar contender. At the very least, that two-time Oscar-winning actor might pick up another supporting nomination. Shooting started in December of 2015 and wrapped in January of 2016.
And then …. nothing.
Kevin Spacey happened. On October 29th, 2017, Anthony Rapp told how, when he was 14, an intoxicated Kevin Spacey made a sexual advance towards him. Subsequently, 15 other people came forward with stories about Spacey making similar advances towards them. At the time, the Oscar-wining actor had key supporting roles in two upcoming films: All The Money In The World and Billionaire Boys Club. The producers of All The Money In The World replaced Spacey with Christopher Plummer and hastily refilmed all of his scenes.
Unfortunately, that really wasn’t an option for the producers of Billionaire Boys Club. Whereas Spacey’s role in All The Money In The World was basically an extended cameo, he was a key part of Billionare Boys Club. Spacey had been cast as Ron Levin, a flamboyant con man whose murder led to the collapse of an 80s investment firm. There was really no feasible way to replace Spacey without reshooting the majority of the film. As a result, Billionaire Boys Club sat a while in limbo before finally getting an extremely limited release back in July. On opening day, the film made a total of $126. (The final weekend gross was $618.)
As for the film itself, the behind the scenes drama is far more interesting than anything that actually happens on screen. Elgort and Egerton play Joe Hunt and Dean Karny, two middle-class guys who want to be rich in the 80s. They do this by starting an investment firm called Billionaire Boys Club and, for a few months, everything seems to be perfect. They appear to be making money. They drive nice cars and live in big mansions and throw big parties. There’s all the usual stuff that you expect to see in films about rich twentysomethings: cocaine, swimming pools, black lingerie, and fast cars. In fact, that’s kind of the problem with the film. There’s nothing surprising about what happens to Joe and Dean. If you’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street, you’ve seen it all before. In fact, if anything, the film’s recreation of greed-fueled decadence is almost too tame. I mean, sure — we get the shot of the lines of cocaine getting snorted off a counter top but it’s hardly the mountain of coke that usually shows up in a movie like this. If anything, this movie needed more cocaine.
Of course, everything eventually falls apart. It turns out that Ron Levin, their main financial backer, was actually a con man who had managed to trick everyone into thinking that he was a millionaire. In the end, it all leads to two murders, one prison sentence, and one new life in the witness protection program.
The film tries to critique the culture of greed but it fails because it never seems to understand why that culture would be so attractive to two guys like Joe and Dean in the first place. Despite the efforts of Elgort and Egerton, Joe and Dean just come across as being two ciphers who maybe watched Wall Street one too many times. It’s never clear what made these two click or why they were able to trick so many people into believing in them. Unlike something like The Wolf of Wall Street, Billionaire Boys Club is so busy scolding everyone for being greedy that it never acknowledges that being rich can also be a lot of fun. (It doesn’t help that Billionaire Boys Club features first person narration, which often leads to the film telling us what it should be showing us.)
As for Kevin Spacey, he gave the same performance that he gave in any number of similar films. He’s arch and sarcastic and sometimes ambiguously flamboyant. He gets upset whenever anyone says anything against his dog. When he announces that he’s a “hustler” and brags about how he can get away with anything because he’s convinced people that he’s something that he’s not, it’s hard not to cringe. It’s not really a bad performance, as much as it just kind of a predictable one. It feels destined to be remembered only for being Spacey’s final appearance in a feature film.
Billionaire Boys Club will be making its Showtime premiere later tonight. It’s not a terrible film but it’s not a particularly memorable one either.