Puerile, demented, and often funny, Joe Carnahan’s low-budget action farce, Stretch, follows a Los Angeles limo driver as he races around town, doing the bidding of one Roger Karos, a reclusive, pyromaniac billionaire caveman-frat-boy-goblin with rat’s nest hair, a forked beard, and an assortment of matching tracksuits. Played by an unrecognizable Chris Pine, Karos is a nightmare vision of everything Kevin (Patrick Wilson)—a failed actor and recovering addict with big debts and no prospects—wants, but can’t have. He snorts anthills of cocaine and hires hookers so gorgeous, they have to wear masks in public. He buys everything that can be bought—including Kevin—and consumes everything that can be consumed.
Stretch exaggerates L.A. excess to near-Southland Tales proportions. It is a world of $10,000 entrance-fee sex clubs where cyborg doormen count money with their tongues and villainous limo companies run by Russians in white hair-metal wigs send tow trucks to menace their rivals. Unsurprisingly, Stretch is kind of a mess, over-stuffed with subplots and weird-for-weird’s-sake gags. (It also features some of the most bizarre cameos in recent memory, a few of which—like Ray Liotta playing himself as a B-lister oblivious to the existence of other celebrities—are pretty funny.) One can’t help but read the film—which was dropped by its studio, and is now available digitally—as an expression of everything Carnahan hates about the movie business. Kevin is often visited by the ghost of his predecessor, Karl With A “K” (Ed Helms), the perfect gentleman’s gentlemen who taught Shaun White to skateboard and helped Norman Reedus cover up a crossbow murder. Like Kevin, Karl was a failed actor, done in by two decades of serving the famous and successful; now, having acquired a sharkskin suit and pencil mustache in hell, he torments his replacement by pointing out his shortcomings and weaknesses.
In Stretch, success is literally disgusting, epitomized by Karos, a man who looks like he just crawled out of a Burning Man port-a-potty. It’s also arbitrary, based more on opportunities than hard work. “Life is nothing but timing” is a repeated phrase. Of course, it’s no coincidence that Karos is pronounced like kairos, the opportune moment of classical Greek rhetoric, the instant when action must be taken. Nor, for that matter, is it an accident that Karos is depicted as a former stock market whiz kid and that the reason Kevin is putting up with his client is because he needs to immediately repay a $6,000 gambling debt that has been sold off to a Hong Kong triad, in the manner of an overdue student loan.
Carnahan has had a career-long preoccupation with genre archetypes and man-of-action machismo—sometimes cartooned out of proportion, sometimes deconstructed. (The latter plays a big part in his last feature, The Grey, which is much better than this site’s original review suggests.) In a career partly defined by canceled and unrealized projects, the two that stand out are a revisionist remake of Death Wish and an adaptation of James Ellroy’s White Jazz. At first glance, Stretch feels like a regression; on closer examination, one can see the outline of something more mature and critical—something about the myth of the successful man—buried underneath all the bitter swipes, self-aware outrageousness, and ’80s-style third-act action. It’s inchoate, but fun.
Stretch is available on iTunes and Amazon.