REVIEW: Considering the amount of bad studio films that slug it out at the box office each week, it seems odd that Universal would go through the trouble of financing STRETCH and then unceremoniously dump the film to iTunes, especially as the film itself is pretty damn great. While it's probably too low profile to have ever set the box office on fire, it probably would have done fairly well and almost certainly would have built up a lot of buzz, especially if they had shown a little faith and taken it to any of the big festivals (TIFF, Sundance or SXSW) where it likely would have played to sold-out, appreciative crowds. Alas, who knows what really goes on in the mind of a studio exec...
I suppose we should be grateful that STRETCH is coming out at all, as it's another slick entry on an already impressive filmography from director Joe Carnahan. As much as THE GREY was dark and contemplative, STRETCH is bright and funny, with Carnahan clearly having the time of his life cooking up this comic-noir, which is like a coked-up episode of ENTOURAGE as directed by Lucifer. It's completely off-the-wall and mental, which suits the Hollywood-setting. Patrick Wilson makes for a likable, somewhat bumbling hero with an edge. Building on the comic strengths he showed is SPACE STATION 76, the title role – that of a former alcoholic limo driver nicknamed “Stretch”– seems tailor made. He's cynical and sarcastic, but there's also a bit of a dreamer in him, with him (what else?) being a frustrated actor at heart.
Once he picks up his depraved passenger, a billionaire magnate played by Chris Pine (sporting a Rick Rubin-like beard) on the bender to end all benders, the movie kicks into high gear and doesn't let up until the credits roll. It's a frenetically paced journey into a beyond-trippy, bizarro version of L.A, where several actors (including Carnahan regular Ray Liotta) play whacked-out versions of themselves, and there's drugs, scams, and carnal pleasures as far as the eye can see. At its best, STRETCH is like an L.A version of Martin Scorsese's AFTER HOURS, or reminiscent of Shane Black's great KISS KISS BANG BANG.
Of course, none of this is meant to be taken too seriously. Carnahan's having fun, and so should the audience. The fact that STRETCH is so funny and such a blast to watch makes Universal's decision to shelve it even stranger. Everyone here is at the top of their game, from Ed Helms – who has probably the best part of his career as a deceased limo driver who occasional pops up (direct from hell) to give Wilson advice – to a surprisingly sweet Jessica Alba as the limo company receptionist with a soft spot for our hero. Chris Pine recaptures the manic intensity of his part in Carnahan's early SMOKIN' ACES to play Wilson's maniac passenger, and has such a blast that the film can barely contain him, with his antics spilling over to the outtakes. Tons of other big names pop up, from James Badge Dale, to “How Did This Get Made's” Jason Mantzoukas (who steals a couple of scenes), Brooklyn Decker, Randy Couture, David Hasselhoff (as himself) and more.
Meanwhile, the film looks gorgeous, with sharp neon-lit photography by Yasu Tanida (who regularly shoots Carnahan's THE BLACKLIST) and a propulsive score by Ludwig Goransson, featuring some choice cuts, including Mike Simonetti's “The Magician” - which also popped up in THE GUEST.
In the end, STRETCH feels like a cult movie waiting to happen, and while the studio inexplicably didn't have much faith in it, it's still a major win for Carnahan. It's quirky, cool, and a whole lot of fun. STRETCH is totally worth the iTunes purchase.