“You're a beta male,” one character tells Stretch (Patrick Wilson, Watchmen). In the context of Joe Carnahan's new film (named after the Wilson character), that's just about the harshest thing one character could possibly say to another. It's the story of one man's journey to discovering his inner action movie star, as he makes the transformation from timid, put-upon schmuck to badass psycho. It's the sort of film designed to be embraced by the bros whose bedroom walls are adorned with Fight Club posters. It's the sort of film which offers a closeup of Chris Pine's testicles for giggles. It's the sort of film in which men are men, women are playthings and David Hasselhoff plays an exaggerated version of himself for the 512th time. It's loud, brash, unapologetic, obnoxious... and okay, occasionally kind of entertaining. The irritating scenes outweighed the enjoyable ones for me, but I felt the same way about Carnahan's Smokin' Aces. If you dug that film, odds are you'll enjoy this one.
When we first meet Stretch, he's a strung-out, alcoholic, coke-addicted loser stumbling his way through Beverly Hills traffic. At his lowest point, he meets a beautiful woman named Candace (Brooklyn Decker, Just Go With It), who falls in love with Stretch and helps him turn his life around. Fast-forward a year, where we find Stretch clean, sober and happy... right up until Candace dumps him and starts dating an NFL quarterback, anyway. Fast-forward another year, and Stretch is clinging to his sobriety but struggling with depression and debt. To make matters worse, his job is on the line: if he doesn't stop losing clients to a mysterious rival known as The Jovi (Randy Couture, Redbelt), he's going to get fired. On top of that, Stretch's bookies have just informed him that if he doesn't cough up $6000 within the next 24 hours, he's going to suffer some severe physical punishment.
Enter Roger Caros (a near-unrecognizable Chris Pine, Star Trek Into Darkness), a wild playboy with the potential to make all of Stretch's problems go away. If Stretch is willing to do anything Roger asks over the course of one night, Roger promises to take care of Stretch's debt – let's call this the Collateral arrangement. Stretch agrees, and embarks upon a dark, wild night filled with expensive prostitutes, mountains of cocaine, drug dealers, money launderers, shootouts, violent henchmen, car chases and other familiar forms of insanity. In the midst of all of this, he finds time to conduct a romance with a mysterious girl via text.
Stretch is an undeniably energetic flick which ultimately feels more exhausting than exhilarating, but your mileage may vary. One pictures Carnahan laughing gleefully as he directs every scene (a notion enhanced by behind-the-scenes videos available online which show him doing exactly that), delighting in how provocative and edgy he's being. The film doubles as a crime comedy and as a satire of Hollywood excess, and it's a bit better at the former than the latter. Based on the end credits gag reel, it seems as if Carnahan gave his actors plenty of room for improvisation, and that's a good thing: many of the film's best moments are the quirky, off-key comic beats which occur between the big setpieces. However, the film's crazed portrait of Hollywood is as broad and toothless as such things usually are. I mentioned that The Hoff plays himself, and of course he playfully presents himself as a crazy person. Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) turns up a few minutes later, and does the exact same thing. As this point, I'd be more surprised if celebrities played themselves as sweet, polite and sincere. Y'know, like Cecil B. DeMille in Sunset Boulevard. Now there's a Hollywood satire.
Wilson has made a career of playing decent-but-impotent men (he was Night Owl in Watchmen, and Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera), so there's at least a little bit of novelty to seeing him start in a familiar mode and slowly shift into alpha male swagger (even if he becomes less likable as the film proceeds). Pine is effectively loony, but not particularly funny – it's a big performance, but he's often outacted by his costumes (or lack thereof). Ed Helms (Vacation) has a nice early scene as a top-notch limo driver, but then the character kills himself and turns into an irritating ghost who pops up to needle Stretch every now and then (I'm hearing Carnahan laughing again). The only female cast member who isn't treated as a sex object is Jessica Alba (Fantastic Four), who is relegated to the one thoroughly ordinary role (she's the one responsible for giving Stretch his work assignments via phone) in a movie filled with all sorts of crazy people. That aforementioned gag reel shows the cast members cracking each other up, but the movie looks it was more fun for them than it is for us.
Carnahan's missed more often than he's hit for me, but I like the guy. The numerous unrealized projects he's attempted to bring to life sound fascinating (Stretch is essentially something he threw together after bigger, potentially better things fell apart), and I'm not exaggerating when I say that his bleak survival drama The Grey is one of the finest films of recent years – one of the rare movies to genuinely earn the term “haunting.” Still, movies like Smokin' Aces and Stretch represent a side of Carnahan's personality I find mostly uninteresting. The next time he decides to stop joking around and really say something, I'll be listening.
Rating: ★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Year: 2014