The Good Guy beat Oliver Stone's Wall Street sequel to festival screens by a good year (well, not such a good year on Wall Street), so perhaps it was ahead of the curve in a way, but it still feels a bit tired and familiar. At least Ben Younger had the temerity to make his junior Mamet, testicular-capitalism-run-amok movie, Boiler Room, way back in 2000, before the economy's house of cards had shown any sign of collapsing.
While these movies seem to follow a similar formula (wide-eyed innocent taken under the wing of a Master of the Universe, corrupted by wealth and power, eventually reaching a crisis of conscience), Julio DePietro, writer and director of The Good Guy, has real-life experience in the financial world, and he creates a convincingly cutthroat milieu. He also has his own take on the story, complete with literary references (Lolita, Pride and Prejudice, and, most pertinently, Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier are all discussed) and a love triangle.
Scott Porter is appropriately slick and superficially charming as our narrator, Tommy, a hotshot investment broker who chooses the naïve Daniel (Bryan Greenberg), an earnest, bumbling former Marine, as the unlikely newest member of his team of sharks. While showing Daniel the ropes, Tommy realizes that Daniel is forging a strong connection with his girlfriend, Beth (Alexis Bledel), and begins to question Daniel's loyalty.
The script hinges too heavily on a distinctly literary narrative device. From a thematic standpoint, DePietro's "twist" works, but it becomes transparent well before it's revealed, and more problematically, it relies on withholding too much information from the audience. As a result, it feels gimmicky.
The New York locations are well chosen, and the young cast is charismatic. Anna Chlumsky demonstrates some of the comedic talent that she exploited more fully for In the Loop, while Andrew McCarthy is clearly relishing his role as Tommy's crassly amoral boss, Cash. After Daniel fails to impress a client with a night on the town, Cash complains to Tommy that the new guy is "about as much fun as chlamydia." DePietro's script has its share of such Entourage-level zingers, but it also has a heart, and that's actually part of the problem.
Like its forebears, The Good Guy spends a lot of time illustrating a seductive high-rolling lifestyle, and then lets us know how empty and meaningless it all is, really. At least one character has to wake up with something much more troubling than a hangover -- a conscience. DePietro shies away from the real consequences of leaving a lucrative career behind in deference to one's ethics. His focus is on the romance, which undercuts whatever points he's making about unfettered greed and ruthless ambition. In the end, the film's morality has more to do with how the villain treats the women in his life than with the unscrupulous way he earns his living. There was a time when such an approach to this material might have been more palatable, but that time has passed. DePietro softens the edge of his morality play by indulging in romantic fantasy. It seems he's trying to shoehorn in a little Sex and the City where he really needs more Glengarry Glen Ross.