action-comedies, After Hours, Ben Bray, Brooklyn Decker, Chris Pine, cinema, comedies, David Hasselhoff, eccentric billionaire, Ed Helms, film reviews, films, James Badge Dale, Jessica Alba, Joe Carnahan, limo driver, Matthew Willig, Movies, Narc, Patrick Wilson, Randy Couture, Ray Liotta, Shaun Toub, Smokin' Aces, Stretch, True Romance, voice-over narration, writer-director
You’ve gotta hand it to writer-director Joe Carnahan: from the Guy Ritchie-baiting hyperactivity of Smokin’ Aces (2006) to the brooding, troubled tough-guy-copisms of Narc (2002)…from the standard-issue “blow shit up” aesthetic of his A-Team (2010) remake to the “tough guys stranded in the harsh wilderness with ravenous wolves” romp that was The Grey (2011)…Carnahan has found a way to represent pretty much every flavor of macho cinematic action trope possible. As if ticking another possibility off a long list, the writer-director’s follow-up to his previous hit, the Liam Neeson-starring The Grey, takes a stab at another enduring staple of tough-guy cinema: the tough guy car film. In this case, Stretch (2014) is a return to Carnahan’s more tongue-in-cheek material, ala Smokin’ Aces, as he eschews the self-flagellation of The Grey in favor of some good, old-fashioned, high-energy action hi-jinks.
Kevin (Patrick Wilson), aka Stretch, is a sad sack actor wannabe who moves to L.A. in search of fame and fortune but ends up driving a limo instead. His boss, Nasseem (Shaun Toub), is a tyrant; Stretch is constantly losing clients to his company’s mysterious rival, the nearly mystical, long maned figure known as The Jovi (Randy Couture); and his “mentor” was the supernaturally efficient Karl (Ed Helms), who blew his brains out, went to Hell and returned with a bitchin’ mustache. Karl now appears to Stretch as a sort of ghost/hallucination/ego manifestation and basically gets to act out the “bad boy” impulses that he resisted while alive. To makes matters even better, Stretch owes six grand to loan shark Iggy (Ben Bray) and the reluctant leg-breaker needs to collect post-haste. In short: poor Stretch is kinda fucked.
Into this sky of dark clouds pops a tiny sliver of sunlight when Stretch’s doting dispatcher, Charlie (Jessica Alba) hips him to a “white whale”: eccentric billionaire Roger Karos (an uncredited Chris Pine) is in need of a ride for the evening and he’s been known to tip thousands of dollars at a time. After finally meeting up, Karos offers Stretch the deal of a lifetime: if he’ll be his faithful servant for the evening, Karos will make Stretch’s money problems instantly disappear. In no position to refuse, Stretch sets out on the adventure of a lifetime as he sets out on an evening that will include a mysterious sex club, drug deals, crazy valets, FBI stings, double-crosses, true love, high-speed chases, angry limo drivers, conniving rap stars and enough danger to choke a horse. For most people, it would be the ultimate nightmare. For Stretch, it’s just another night in the City of Angels.
For the most part, Stretch is an entertaining, if distinctly low-brow and, occasionally,excessively dumb, film. Forgoing the po-faced solemnity of The Grey, Carnahan is much more interested in a high-speed romp this time around and it’s definitely a refreshing change of pace. The film is actually full of some pretty good setpieces, including several high-octane scenes involving the speeding limo that are ridiculously thrilling. Carnahan also gets excellent work from Wilson, who’s quickly developing a name for these kinds of B-level genre flicks. While his tough guy posturing can get a little eye-rolling, at times, Wilson is consistently fun and is a big reason for any success the film has. If there was ever a doubt that Wilson is leading man material, let Stretch show that he’s charismatic enough to effortlessly top the marquee, especially in this kind of breezy material.
While Wilson gets able support from a decent supporting cast that includes Jessica Alba in a low-key, rather sweet role, there are two areas where the whole enterprise kind of deflates: Ed Helms and Chris Pine. In the case of Helms, there just isn’t a lot for him to do: essentially reduced to a ghost within the film’s first five minutes, he’s pretty much trotted out for over-the-top comic relief (the mustache is silly but his new ‘tude is even sillier) and any sense of character development evaporates. Pine, for his part, just isn’t up to the kind of subtle, twisted menace that’s so integral to the character of Roger Karos: in his hands, the billionaire comes off as more of a quirky doofus who experiences an eleventh-hour transition into Bond villain territory that feels utterly inauthentic. It’s not so much that Pine is bad: he’s not amazing but it’s not embarrassing, either. It’s more that the character of Karos demands an unforgettable representation and Pine just ain’t it.
All in all, Stretch is a fun, if decidedly non-essential, action-comedy, sort of a poor-man’s True Romance (1993), although I’m wondering if Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) might not be a more apt comparison. Thanks to some great action setpieces and a solid lead performance from Patrick Wilson, however, there’s enough good stuff here to make this an easy recommendation for anyone in need of a quick adrenaline fix. Plus, you get the inherent joy of watching David Hasselhoff play a foul-mouthed, evil-tempered version of himself and that’s gotta be worth something, right?