Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) snorts coke through a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill, unfurls that Benjamin Franklin, shows it to the camera, then wads it up and chucks it into the trash.
It’s one of the least obnoxious things he does with his millions during the course of “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Director Martin Scorsese reteams with “Boardwalk Empire” creator Terence Winter as well as DiCaprio, whom he also directed in “Gangs of New York,” “The Aviator,” “The Departed” and “Shutter Island,” to bring Belfort’s memoirs to the big screen. And the trio revisits the anything-goes late ’80s and early ’90s with a grab bag of debauchery that should elicit abject horror but mostly plays as comedy.
It’s an era of power suits, hookers, cocaine and Quaaludes, more hookers, Trump Tower apartments and weekends with 50 hookers on a plane to Las Vegas for a bachelor party so out of control, Belfort ends up paying to refurbish an entire floor of The Mirage.
There’s the 170-foot yacht complete with a helipad that even Belfort acknowledges is a “boat fit for a Bond villain.”
He thinks nothing of offering the employees of his Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm a $25,000 bonus for the most accurate dwarf toss.
And to celebrate the end of business one Friday, Belfort convinces a female employee to shave her head for $10,000 to put toward breast implants, at which point tuxedoed servers carrying trays of Champagne lead a parade consisting of an underwear-clad marching band and a couple of dozen strippers throughout the office.
Subtle it ain’t.
“Wolf” chronicles Belfort’s rise from a promising young broker whose first day on the job was October 19, 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed more than 20 percent.
Out of work, and with no reputable firms hiring, Belfort ends up working in a shady, strip-mall storefront peddling penny stocks or, as he puts it, “selling garbage to garbagemen.”
Soon, though, he gets the idea of selling those worthless stocks, with their 50 percent commissions vs. the 1 percent for blue-chips, to the wealthiest clients around and launches Stratton Oakmont with some weed-dealing friends in a converted mechanic’s garage.
That year, as a 26-year-old, he earned $49 million, “which really pissed me off,” he narrates, because it was just this close to averaging $1 million a week.
Of course, Belfort doesn’t get there alone.
His mentor (Matthew McConaughey, still gaunt from “Dallas Buyers Club”) schools him. The too-brief role is pure, unadulterated McConaughey in all his weirdly captivating glory.
And where there’s Belfort, there’s usually Donnie Azoff (a never-better Jonah Hill), his nebbishy, crack-smoking, first-cousin-marrying neighbor turned business partner.
Along with “The Great Gatsby,” “Wolf” puts DiCaprio front and center in two of the year’s most ostentatious movies. And along with “This Is the End,” it puts Hill in two of its most depraved.
In the more-than-capable hands of DiCaprio, Belfort seems to be mainlining charisma. He’s part motivational speaker, part cult leader, and he whips his employees into such a frenzy, the only things missing are some snake-handling, hot-coal walks and gladiator fights in the copy room.
Aside from money, though, his drug of choice, among a laundry list of them that could have kept several pharmaceutical companies afloat, is Quaaludes. When Donnie gets his hands on some extra-potent ones that have been sitting in his pharmacist’s safe for the past 15 years, it leads to a slow-motion ballet of a chase scene that showcases DiCaprio’s remarkably acrobatic physicality.
It’s one of the crazier things you’ll ever see in a movie, in a movie that’s bursting at the seams with crazy things.
“Wolf” is not for the squeamish or easily offended. It’s what they refer to in the business as a “hard R,” and it reportedly nearly was saddled with an NC-17 rating.
With its copious amounts of sex and drugs, Belfort and his buddies might as well be racing to see who can take part in both of them on the widest variety of surfaces. Along the way, “Wolf” offers up some of the least sexy sex imaginable, a remarkable accomplishment considering a lot of it involves the stunning Margot Robbie as Belfort’s second wife, the former Miller Lite girl he refers to as “the Duchess of Bay Ridge.”
Befitting the era it depicts, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is excessive in its excess, and that includes its running time. Scorsese missed the movie’s original Nov. 15 opening date because he couldn’t deliver a version that came in under three hours. He eventually did. By a minute.
It’s a LOT of movie, and Scorsese’s longest yet, besting “Casino,” also by a minute.
Some of the cuts feel like they must have come from the finale, because “Wolf” concludes not with a bang but a whimper.
Belfort may not deserve a better ending, considering much of how he made his millions as well as the ways he spent it were illegal, but his movie certainly does.
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Christopher Lawrence reviews movies for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact hiim at firstname.lastname@example.org