– Summary –
Director : Joe Carnahan
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Patrick Wilson, Chris Pine, Brooklyn Decker, Ed Helms, Jessica Alba, James Badge Dale, Ben Bray, Matthew Willig, Ray Liotta, David Hasselhoff, Norman Reedus.
Approx Running Time : 94 Minutes
Synopsis: A hard-luck limo driver struggling to go straight and pay off a debt to his bookie takes on a job with a crazed passenger whose sought-after ledger implicates some seriously dangerous criminals.
What we think : Finally, the movie I’ve waited Joe Carnahan to direct for ages (well, since The A Team) – amped up, violent, crass, obscene and utterly hilarious, Stretch is a rocket ride of laughs and fun from start to finish. Patrick Wilson’s “everyman” persona (one he perfected in films like Lakeview Terrace and, to an extent, in Watchmen) suits his character to perfection, and alongside a hilarious Ed Helms, an insane Chris Pine, and a gorgeous Jessica Alba, tilts from one moments of lively insanity to the next with a sense of reckless abandon. Fast and funny, Stretch delivers.
One limousine ride you won’t forget.
I’ve been a fan of Joe Carnahan since he made Smokin’ Aces. I’ve waited for him to direct a film like Smokin’ Aces again for ages, and although The A Team came close to the same gut-punch ferocity, it was tempered with a pleasant sheen of commercialized integrity that neutered a lot of potential “hard” violence. Thankfully, Stretch sees Carnahan really return to that adult-focused action comedy mode, and unlike The Grey, or even The A Team, thunders it’s way through a diverting, if entirely implausible, routine of hard-partying, drugs, guns, brawls, money and cars. It’s top-flight junk cinema, the kind of film left behind by focus groups and committees, destined for cult status as a beer-n-pizza favorite, and as such, strays from traditional pathways and heads off into some pretty wild tangents. Not all of it works, but as a whole, it’s entirely entertaining.
Nick (Patrick Wilson) is a downtrodden limo driver, working at trying to pay down a $6000 gambling debt to mafia henchman Iggy (Ben Bray), and haunted by the memory of a fellow driver who suicided, Karl (Ed Helms). The business is in direct competition with the ruthless limo operator known as The Jovi, from whom Nick (named “Stretch” by many of his passengers) steals customers (such as David Hasselhoff, Ray Liotta, and The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus), and pines for his ex-girlfriend Candice (Brooklyn Decker – Battleship), who dumped him for a football star. With Iggy chasing payment, Stretch, together with his dispatcher Charlie (Jessica Alba), decide to take on the patronage of a powerful – and enormously eccentric – businessman, Roger Karos (Chris Pine), who as it turns out is wanted by the FBI for money laundering and is planning to escape to a non-extradition friendly country that night; Stretch hopes Karos will “tip” him the $6k needed to pay off his debt and get him out of trouble. As the night descends into anarchy, and Stretch’s plans for an easy escape from possible torture go awry, it will take all his wits and guile to thread the needle of the pursuing law enforcement officials (James Badge Dale) and get his life back on track.
If it wasn’t so crazy, and delivered with so much energy and fun, Stretch would be terrible. I mean, it’s every cliche under the sun jostling for pride of place beneath Joe Carnahan’s sledgehammer directorial style, as he pummels both the cast and the audience into a frenzied submission with a gaggle of drugs, booze, and slick dialogue in search of meaning for this story. The downtrodden, near-suicidal, utterly depressed leading man? Check. The hot-as-lava female friend who you just know is going to somehow become more than that by the end credits? Check. The menacing-yet-somehow-friendly gangster looking for his money? Check. The trash-talking, honest-to-God ghost haunting the leading man? Check. The witheringly complex narrative of twists and turns that somehow climaxes in a showdown between all the major players, most of whom remain unknown to each other until the very end? Absolutely check mate. It’s not like this film isn’t merely a retread of other, similarly vulgar stories, turning human trash into cinematic treasure, because it’s exactly that. What Stretch does differently, however, is give the whole thing a heap of pizazz that just makes it all work.
Joe Carnahan’s direction is as frantic, as beguiling and as tremendously entertaining as it was back in The A Team, his last good film. Anyone who saw The Grey will know he’s capable (or at least potentially capable) of some nice dramatic stuff, but for me, it’s his zany, crazy, hillbilly style of pulp film-making that works with me as a pure entertainment style. His best films haven’t been serious, they’ve been attempts to out-McG McG. And boy, does he succeed with Stretch. Stretch mixes the hyperkinetic visual aesthetic of Narc (his first great movie) with the discombobulation of insanity that made The A Team work so well, and amps it all up into an “all in one night” action comedy thing that smashes it out of the park. The script, by credited writers Jerry Corley, Rob Rose and Carnahan himself, feels like they’ve tried to emulate the crazy antics of The Hangover movies, combined a bit of Carnahan’s own Smokin’ Aces off-kilter humor, and melded it all into a soupcon of flashing lights, trailer-worthy dialogue and pause-button editing; Stretch shouldn’t work as well as the story and character might have you think, but work this film does, in every magnificent way.
The cast, from Patrick Wilson down to the cameo’s by Hasselhoff, Liotta and Reedus, all scream with laughter – Wilson’s Stretch isn’t a hero, he’s just a trashed out recovering druggie/alcoholic trying to get his life back in order, and Wilson nails the part. He’s not some muscle-bound hulk who hands out retribution after a movie full of agony, he’s just a guy, a plain guy with no special powers. Jessica Alba spends most of the film conversing with him on the phone, in her fairly small role of Charlie, the dispatcher, while Chris Pine is nigh unrecognizable (in much the same way he was in Smokin’ Aces – yeah, betcha you’ll have to scratch yer head to find him in that!) as a bearded, filthy, utterly insane Karos. James Badge Dale is fun as an FBI agent out to capture Karos, and Ed Helms filths it up as a figment of Stretch’s imagination back to haunt him; Helms gets the best lines, and knows it. Brooklyn Decker kinda sluts it a bit as Candace, a role far removed from her clean-cut effort in Battleship, while Ben Bray’s Iggy is as simplistic as the character requires to get the point across.
Where a film like Stretch succeeds is with its sense of “don’t give a f@ck” fun. The film’s bravado is clear from the outset – we’re introduced to Stretch and Candace’s relationship through a sex scene, where she promptly dumps his ass – and continues unabated through encounters with bullish bouncers, a weird Kubrickian sex-party (as in, Eyes Wide Shut style), and even a trio of sexy masked femme fatales who enjoy the act of fisting. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie. Look, if you’re a bit prudish and dislike constant coarse language, or even hints of sexual depravity or drug use, you’ll find a lot to dislike about Stretch. It’s not a film for the whole family; it’s crude, rude and a whole blast of in-yo-face fun, so if that sounds like something you’d enjoy, feel free to watch it knowing you’ll never have to call it in the morning.
© 2014, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.