Kevin Spacey as Sam Rogers in "Margin Call," written and...

Kevin Spacey as Sam Rogers in "Margin Call," written and directed by J.C. Chandor. Credit: Handout

There's a market out there for "Margin Call," a film that tries to simply and clearly dramatize the baffling causes of our current economic crisis. Unfortunately, it turns out to be something like a mortgage bundle. The terrific cast seems like a risk-free proposition, but the movie is barely worth the celluloid it's printed on.

Aiming for the snarling intensity of David Mamet but sounding more like an overheated prime-time soap, "Margin Call" is set on the eve of the financial crash of 2008. It begins with a whiff of conspiracy: At a nameless financial firm, fired staffer Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) passes a thumb drive to junior researcher Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) with a warning: "Be careful." Peter, a former rocket scientist (really), studies the contents and quickly concludes that his debt-heavy firm is nearing collapse.

Far from being careful, he alerts everyone: his callow co-worker Seth (Penn Badgley); their Nicorette-chomping boss, Will (Paul Bettany); his Nicorette-chomping boss, Sam (Kevin Spacey) and even head honcho John Tuld (Jeremy Irons, dripping with evil Britishness). Tuld, one of those philosopher-villains who's always invoking Darwin, decides to flood the market with worthless paper, saving his firm but dooming everyone else to extinction.

Writer-director J.C. Chandor (a veteran of television commercials and rock-concert films) tells every actor the same thing: Deliver a speech while glaring. Simon Baker and Demi Moore, as backstabbing executives, do almost nothing else. "Margin Call" thinks it's a Shakespearean tragedy, but it's really sub-Aaron Sorkin malarkey. At one point, the dependably florid Tuld envisions "the biggest bag of odorous excrement ever assembled in the history of capitalism." It's an unattractive and awkwardly mixed metaphor, but an appropriate tagline for this film.

PLOT A junior assistant at a financial firm discovers a secret with global consequences. RATING R (strong language)

CAST Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore.


PLAYING AT Malverne Cinema 4, Manhasset Cinemas, AMC Stony Brook 17 and AMC Raceway 10, Westbury.

BOTTOM LINE Lots of intense speechifying about our current financial crisis, but this overheated drama lacks the ring of truth.

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