NEAR THE START of The Boiler Room, tough-talking "stockjock" recruiter Ben Affleck sneers, "People who tell you that money is the root of all evil don't have any." But the thorny issue of "What so profiteth a man if he gains the world and loses his soul?" is the lesson that sticks Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) in this morality play by first-time writer/director Ben Younger.

The Boiler Room is about a modern-day con game: selling phony stock. Seth is one of many hustlers-in-training drawn in by the lure of making more money than they know what to do with. This isn't The Sting, though, where the fun was as much in playing the game as in making the cash. These glorified frat-boys aren't smart enough for that; they don't even know they're just as much of a mark as the losers they pitch stock to (none are as charming as Paul Newman or Robert Redford, either). As long as they've got the cash to booze it up on weekends and talk about their future Ferraris, they're happy.

In the midst of all this, Seth unexpectedly sprouts a conscience -- unexpected, because in his former job he ran an illegal casino out of his humble home in Queens. When he stumbles upon the master plan behind the rough-and-tumble shenanigans of J. T. Marlin, it gives him pause. At least back in Queens, he reasons, he gave his clients what they wanted in a face-to-face setting; now, he works the phones, pushing stuff no one needs.

The Boiler Room is best when it sticks to examining this brawling, testosterone-stuffed world (the crew shouts out lines while watching Wall Street on video, as if they're at a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening); the troubled father-son relationship and completely superfluous romance are irritating distractions. And for all its hair-pulling, it's hard to tell if the underlying lesson gets through to anyone. Odds are, Seth'll be back digging for the quick cash in the morning, after a good night's sleep.

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