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‘Stretch’ is Joe Carnahan’s most bonkers, and perhaps most personal film yet

‘Stretch’ is Joe Carnahan’s most bonkers, and perhaps most personal film yet

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Stretch
Written and directed by Joe Carnahan
USA, 2014

The opening scene of Joe Carnahan’s latest shows a man getting jettisoned from the driver’s side window of his car in a crash, hitting the ground rolling and ending up sitting on the street with barely a scratch. That’s how this film begins, and it only gets zanier from there. The plot follows a down-on-his-luck limo driver, Stretch (Patrick Wilson), who finds out he has to pay $6,000 of gambling debts by midnight. Roger Karos (Chris Pine), a deranged billionaire, offers to cover his debt if he drives him around for the evening, an experience that gets more hellish with each passing minute.

Patrick Wilson plays the title character like a punching bag with a forced smile. He’s the type of guy who has always had bad luck, and is simply used to it by now and just rolls with it. He’s referred to by one character as a “beta male”. Wilson gets to show off his comedic chops simply by how he reacts to all the craziness around him. He’s both frustrated and compliant, and it’s a humorous combination that makes him an effective rock for the audience to hold to in all this delirium around him.

Joe Carnahan sees a side to Chris Pine that nobody else does: insane and depraved. Back in 2006’s Smokin’ Aces, Carnahan had Pine play a lunatic redneck, but here he has Pine doing the most depraved and insane performance we’ll probably ever see from him. I mean, the first thing you see of him is his bare ass on a windshield with his genitals poking out of his jockstrap. He sports the physical look of Charles Manson – complete with the crazed beard and hair – and immediately heightens the film’s reality with just his presence. In one scene, Pine is lit in the limo with harsh reds, his wide smile reminding one of a demon. Just his presence gives the audience the feeling that anything can and will happen. I doubt we’ll see Pine do anything as comically insane and depraved ever again, and that’s a shame as he’s incredibly adept at going there.

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The supporting cast is put together well, with Ed Helms, Jason Mantzoukas and James Badge Dale – and Randy Couture in a small part where you go “Wait, is that Randy Couture?” – adding their own delightfully crazed turns to this commotion of a plot. A couple of actors even cameo as themselves to great comedic effect, but their identities are best left as a surprise for when you watch the film. Jessica Alba sports some infectious charm and good chemistry with Wilson, but ultimately the roles inhabited by her and Brooklyn Decker lead to predictable places. That’s not always a problem, but in a film like this where you delight in wondering where the hell it’s headed next, anything that’s predictable causes it to drag.

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Right now you can only watch the film by buying it on iTunes, and that’s a shame. Don’t get me wrong, it was well worth the $15, but this is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen. To recap some history, the film was slated for theatrical release earlier this year before being pulled over concerns of how to market it. Whoever working at Universal Studios looked at this film, saw it was an action comedy that was made for the small price tag of $5 million, and saw it starred Captain Kirk and the guy who co-lead the Insidious films and The Conjuring and said “I don’t think we can sell this.”, needs to be brought up for review. This film is destined for cult status, it’s just a shame it can’t be the surprise hit anyone who watches this film will get the impression it can be.

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This film is made by a director who has experienced a lot of rejection and frustration in his career – seriously, just google how many projects he’s had shut down – and you can feel it in the energized, almost manic pace, as well as the construction of the protagonist. It’s not overtly autobiographical, as he’s not going out of his way to insert himself into this work. It calls to mind Martin Scorsese’s After Hours – a film also made as a vent of frustration regarding studios stalling his projects, and also filmed with a manic sense of energy centered around a protagonist who just can’t seem to catch a break. To put it in simpler terms, this is a film that only a director like Joe Carnahan could have made after the experiences he’s had. There’s a certain energy that comes out of frustration and rejection, and Carnahan has taken that and made a fully entertaining piece of filmmaking.

— Dylan Griffin