Joe Carnahan has made six feature length films, four of which I have now seen. Some of them I remember, others I don't recall much of. I haven't seen his debut 1998 feature Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane (which looks and sounds horrendous) nor his sophomore follow-up in 2002's Narc though I hear that one is actually worth a look. I was introduced to Carnahan's tendency for manic action in his hyper-stylized 2006 effort which he both wrote and directed, Smokin' Aces.  I can remember Aces featuring an all-star ensemble, but a story that alludes me though that doesn't matter. It was a film with a visual flair all its own and from what I do remember it was that overt style that made me want to seek it out more than anything else. Going through the rest of Carnahan's filmography brings us to the highly underrated, intended to be franchise-starter that was 2010's The A-Team (an almost $80 million domestic gross against a $110 million budget) and then on to the next years The Grey which gave Liam Neeson what looked like another actioner in his new position as official movie badass, but was actually a thoughtful, meditative look at love, loss and the meaning of our existence among the threats of the wilderness and wolves. He is an eclectic kind of filmmaker as the aforementioned filmography proves, but he clearly has his tendencies when it comes to the types of films he likes to make and the very precise style he likes to infuse them with. There isn't necessarily one distinct style, though his pacing is key, but it is more about the melding of the style and material together in a way that produces something that feels totally organic. Organic in terms of a harmonious relationship between several different elements and Carnahan is now at a point in his career with his latest, Stretch, that he pulls off his manic tone with ease as his multifaceted screenplay dips in and out of different circumstances while never losing its energy.

Roger Karos (Chris Pine) is what you might call slightly insane in Stretch.
As a voice over from our titular character introduces his tale we are prefaced by being told that if we like stories about chance, coincidence and fate that this is one we haven't heard before. It is quite a claim seeing as most of us have heard a fair amount of stories by the time we venture into an R-rated black comedy made precisely for those of an acquired taste, but if Stretch is anything it is confident and up to the task of delivering what it promises, at least in a fashion we're not much accustomed to. Kevin Brzyzowski AKA Stretch (Patrick Wilson) is a hard-luck limo driver struggling to go straight from his addiction to boos and blow and in need of $6,000 in order to pay off a debt to his bookie. Things take a turn when he meets his dream girl (Brooklyn Decker) who he spends a wonderful year with only to have her break up with him for the rookie Cleveland Browns quarterback. This sends Stretch back into a downward spiral, but a downward spiral, a hole he has dug for himself and one he owns up to and is determined to get himself out of. This sets the stage for the night to come as Stretch makes it his mission to turn his pointless existence around. He expresses the line of thought that his life is already more than half over and that he has little to nothing to show for it. He motivates himself and thus allows the part of him powered by pure need to take over both in his professional and personal life. As a limo driver the day-to-day is destined to be random, but what Carnahan has in store for us with Stretch honestly feels like he's taking things to a whole other level. Besides having Ed Helms play a once stellar driver who offed himself and now serves as Stretch's conscious, making Chris Pine a coked out billionaire who skydives down for his ride or pitting Stretch against insurmountable odds in the form of rival limo drivers, bookies and the FBI Carnahan has packed it all into a strangely cohesive and brilliantly off the wall hour and a half that breezes by on a high and delivers consistent laughs while being elevated even more by the actors committed and crazy performances.

I think what I appreciate most, and this should be brought as close to the forefront of the mind when discussing this film as possible, is that it doesn't seem to be trying too hard. This is a movie that could easily be slapped with that label. This is a film that bullets from one ridiculous scenario to the next. Not to spoil anything, but the cameos in the first half hour of this film alone are worth considering it as an attempt to cash in on recognizable faces and funny scenarios because of the recognizable faces and not because of any inherent comedy. The fact is though, on top of laughing at who shows up you will laugh at the self-depreciating depths these actors are willing to go to in order to keep in line the facade and tone of the overall film. This is as much a film about Stretch as it is about the town of Hollywood it seems. I've never been to the city of angels so I can't say how close this hues to the overall atmosphere of the city, but as far as the films intent goes it seems to really want to point out the amount of the bullshit the zip code retains. There is likely more to say on that, but this movie is so schizophrenic it seems impossible to stay on one subject for too long. One would imagine that with so much going on Carnahan would easily jumble the thoughts his characters are having, the emotions those thoughts elicit and the eventual behavior that both those thoughts and emotions bring to the surface, but Stretch is honestly such a fun movie to watch it was hard to even take a moment to stop and notice if there were any real issues with things such as story or character development. The only character that really matters is Wilson's anti-hero and in him we find everything we need to know by how he reacts to the insane predicaments he comes in contact with on this one wild night. To think about the movie as a whole is to try and boil down a main theme or overarching idea, but other than fate and what it means, if it's real and what we decide to do with it nothing else springs to mind. Stretch doesn't believe in fate, but he can't deny everything that happens to him on this documented excursion changes the course of his life mostly for the better, helping him to somewhat accomplish or at least get on the right track to accomplish his mission statement.

Stretch (Patrick Wilson) is having one hell of a night.
Instead of being a film that tries too hard to be cool or edgy it is simply a movie that oozes cool with just the right amount of quirk from its spectacularly neon lit cinematography to the self-aware, sarcastic characters that excel due to the talent behind them. I mentioned that earlier, but let's really dig into it now. Wilson has always been an actor destined to be a major star, but who never really took off. I can remember first seeing him in Hard Candy and then not until Lakeview Terrace did I really take notice of his moves within the industry. He is a more than capable actor who has the classic good looks and charm that help to go a long way while they are exactly what undermines him in a role like this and he realizes it. As a man down-on-his-luck who finally decides to do something in order to make something good happen Stretch is able to take not getting a job on CSI: Miami and allow it to define the man he wanted to become. With his subtle, but clearly well-timed comic sensibility Wilson is able to team with Carnahan to make even a footrace hilarious not by resorting to slapstick, but by exaggerating the characters movements and vocal inflections as they run and sprinkle in racial and societal asides that keep the audience's ears on their toes. As for the remainder of the cast Pine is working in a role that would typically be seen as an excuse to go all out and one destined to be a reason to re-evaluate his public persona, but while Pine is able to keep himself in check (considering) he also doesn't make things as memorable as he probably could have. There are a few moments of pure comic bliss where Pine as Roger seems to sporadically throw out improvisational lines that are so in line with the tone of the film it only ups the stakes as we wait for Wilson or whoever is reacting to him to bust out laughing themselves. Helms is excellent in his small supporting role as he channels a drugged out William Hurt in Mr. Brooks with a pedophile mustache while both Jessica Alba and Decker turn in their best performances in some time (maybe ever for Decker). Alba actually comes off likable and not as cringe-inducing as normal. With so much going on and so much building to it the conclusion is a little too uplifting in tone for all that precedes it, but while its nice to see something good happen to Stretch, I really hoped Carnahan would drive this thing off the edge.

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