Monday, November 24, 2014

(Not) Love Actually: Stretch

Writer and Director Joe Carnahan is one of my favorite dudes working today.  It's hard to believe that his breakthrough film, Narc, was released 12 years ago.  That 2002 flick, about two cops working the mean streets of Detroit to find a cop killer was a gritty and electrifying piece of work that signaled Carnahan had arrived in Hollywood.  A detour into writing and directing Mission Impossible III for Tom Cruise followed but after a year and a half, Carnahan quit the production when his raw, low budget version dealing with private military in Africa just wasn't cutting it with studio Paramount.  In 2006 we got Smokin' Aces, a frantic, hilarious, fucked up, star-studded affair about federal agents and hired assassins going after a mob informant.  2010's big budget, action and stunt filled adaptation of 80's television show The A-Team was just about the most fun I had watching a movie that year.  2011's follow up The Grey changed directions and was a harrowing, lyrical and successful mash up of art house and mainstream dramatic action thriller.

In 2012, rumors were swirling about a proposed Death Wish remake or a quick, micro budget project with genre powerhouse Jason Blum of Paranormal Activity and The Purge fame.  The Los Angeles set Death Wish was allegedly derailed when MGM wanted Bruce Willis for the title role while Carnahan was looking for a non-action icon and had earmarked the lead for up and coming actor Frank Grillo from Warrior and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Carnahan's project with Blum would become known as Stretch and tell the tale of an in debt limo driver chauffeuring an eccentric billionaire around town on one crazy night hoping to land a big tip.  Like Smokin' Aces, Stretch would line up a low-watt cast of familiar faces including Patrick Wilson, Jessica Alba, Ray Liotta, Brooklyn Decker, David Hasselhoff, Ed Helms and Chris Pine.  Not much was released from the production of the film and news on it's release was lacking.  Universal announced a March, 2013 release date but in January, dropped Stretch from their schedule.  Producer Blum was given the chance to shop the film to other studios but there were no takers.  Although the film only cost $5 million dollars, Universal did not feel it's potential earning power would justify the $20+ million it would take to advertise it.  Thus is the case with several Blum productions under his deal with Universal, this was just the most high profile example.  Carnahan defended the film, stating that it was a great flick and Patrick Wilson was terrific as the lead.  Stretch would find it's audience somehow and sometime, whether it be via a film festival or creative distribution.  Things went quiet again, the film didn't play festivals or receive any kind of theatrical release as far as I'm aware before hitting Netflix in October and a so far bare bones DVD only release is slated for this week. That's a marked difference to Carnahan's past films which all feature entertainingly candid commentaries and insightful making of's.

So what happened?  Is the film worthy of Carnahan's praise?  Was it his first cinematic misstep?  Was it too bad to release?  Yes and no.  Is it as memorable as his previous work?  No.  Is it entertaining?  Hell yes.  Did it deserve a wide release?  In my opinion, no, it did not.  Stretch is fast, fun and depraved in the vein of Smokin' Aces meeting Michael Mann's Collateral but is very, very Los Angeles story and probably wouldn't appeal to the vast stretches of AMERICA that live in between us and New York.  That being said, I still think it should have gotten some kind of release in major markets and be given a few supplements on home video but hey, I'm not in charge.

We meet Stretch (Patrick Wilson) as he's being t-boned at an intersection and goes flying out the window.  Miraculously, he's unharmed and begins dating the driver who hit him, a beautiful young woman named Candace (Brooklyn Decker).  Candace breaks up with Stretch a year later and our guy goes back to his drinking and gambling ways, incurring a harsh, $6,000 debt.  Originally moving to LA to be an actor, Stretch pays the bills by driving a limo but their service is in danger of being obliterated by new competition, Cossack.  After his bookie's agency is bought out by Chinese investors, Stretch's once payment plan debt is now due by the end of the night.  We roll with Stretch as he tries to figure out how to get the money and as he picks up various clients.  David Hasselhoff and Ray Liotta play amped up, funny versions of themselves as his first fares of the day.  Oh yeah, he's visited by the ghost of Karl, a former legend in the limo business who basically shows up to tell Stretch how stupid he is, played by an over the top, mustached Ed Helms.  With the help of his cute, kind and bespectacled dispatcher Charlie (Jessica Alba), Stretch lands a possibly lucrative fare in the shape of eccentric billionaire Roger Karos (Chris Pine looking like Howard Hughes smashed with Charles Manson).  From there, drug, bookie, hooker, police filled Los Angeles and Hollywood shenanigans ensue. 

Stretch is a lot of fun, if you liked his crazy, what the fuck-ness of Smokin' Aces, you'll probably like this.  It's also kind of sweet and you feel for our lead.  Like I said, it's a very Los Angeles movie as the once ambitious, go getting Stretch gets burned out while trying to make it and struggles to get through another day while pursuing his goal of becoming an actor.  Things play out like a screen writers descent into hell, combining all of the worst and weirdest stories broke creatives moonlighting as drivers, waiters, etc have encountered or heard.  Watching the film you can basically spot LA and Hollywood landmarks and many are used with their real names.  I was impressed that they were able to close down certain streets and parts of the freeway for such a small budgeted film.  Shot in 23 days, Stretch feels much bigger than your typical Direct to Video film of it's size, mostly due to Carnahan's experience with making movies large and small.  There's bits of action peppered throughout to keep things exciting and the cast is used very efficiently so nearly every scene has a familiar face, even if only for a few moments.  This film fell off my radar and by the time I was reminded of it and wanting to do some sort of screening, it was already coming out on VOD.  Carnahan has been keeping busy directing episodic television lately as film projects stall, hopefully that changes soon and we get his edgy, macho, funny and weirdcool sensibility back on the big screen where it belongs.

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