Be It By Luck, Fate, Or Timing, Stretch Is Awesome FunPosted: October 11, 2014
Joe Carnahan, on some level, is the sort of filmmaker I would hope to be. Not necessarily because of the types of movies that he makes, but because the guy has an almost-obscene level of confidence in himself, and is more than willing to voice his issues with the Hollywood system in a way few filmmakers rarely do. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s made some truly great films so far, with Narc and The Grey both being supremely underrated. But while Carnahan has shown great dramatic chops with those films, he’s possibly better known for his zany, anarchist action spectacles like Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team. Those are films that seem to be Carnahan’s unfiltered id plastered on-screen as pyrotechnic-driven chaos, which can be fun but also completely lack subtlety and emotional context. With Stretch, Carnahan harnesses this side of his filmmaking personality better than he ever has before, and crafts a film that is trashy, immature and ridiculous… but also sweet, relatable and a huge amount of fun
One of the things that kept Smokin’ Aces from being truly great (but still very fun) is that there are so many different characters and subplots going on at once- all of which are trying to one-up each other in terms of ridiculousness- that they all drown each other out and prevent anything from really resonating emotionally. Stretch deftly avoids this problem, as the ever-escalating series of absurd events are uniformly tied to the arc of the eponymous protagonist. By letting one specific character arc drive all of the action, Carnahan is able to keep things focused and emotionally grounded, which not only lends greater heft to the story but also emphasizes the increasing insanity of the situation.
Of course, that wouldn’t mean much if the character arc wasn’t effective or relatable, but between Carnahan’s writing and a committed performance from Patrick Wilson, Stretch’s story is surprisingly engaging. Wilson’s eponymous chaffeur is a sad schlub of a guy, someone whose dreams haven’t worked out and whose life seems to be (to quote comedian Kyle Kinane) “a series of undocumented low points.” He’s a guy who has succumbed, more than anything else, to his own insecurities and disappointments. His dreams of being an actor and finding a great girl have been cruelly dashed, and now he’s set the lowest of goals for himself. But with this one risky job offer, he sees a chance to get out from under his own bullshit and get back on track. It’s a classic Deal With The Devil story, and Stretch is portrayed as enough of a likable (if occasionally douchey) everyman that anyone puttering through an “unremarkable” life can identify with him.
The other side of this narrative coin is the aforementioned Devil, a billionaire named Karos. Karos is played by Chris Pine, and it is a fearlessly batshit performance, one that shows no Movie Star vanity whatsoever. Karos is the embodiment of unbridled ambition and success, an avatar of excess that represents the sort of Opportunity that a schmuck like Stretch craves. His offer to Stretch is the sort of shortcut that the American Dream seems to promise people all the time, an instant cure-all to our hero’s ills. In this way, Stretch actually reminds me of this year’s Cheap Thrills, which also used a heightened dramatic situation to examine America’s struggle with entitlement and greed. But unlike that incredibly nihilistic movie, Stretch is much more optimistic in the end. Carnahan seems to suggest that yes, we are all capable of being dragged down by our insecurities and our vices, but that if we’re willing to put our dicks on the table (so to speak) we can find our own way to some happiness, however simple that happiness may be. It’s not a particularly revelatory or unique moral, but it is one that’s achieved with a great deal of earnestness, which for a story like this makes all the difference.
Stretch is certainly a simple movie, and certainly an immature movie, and certainly a ridiculous movie. But it is also very very fun, and very very encouraging in its own way. It seems fitting that a director who seems to have such strong belief in his work should craft a film where having confidence in yourself is the key to being happy. This side of Joe Carnahan may not be the most nuanced or restrained, but if it can give us movies like Stretch then I’m all for it. If only we could’ve seen his Daredevil movie…
Stretch is available on iTunes right now, and on various other VOD platforms. Go see it right now, which is easy because you can do it on the same machine you’re using to read this!