The flashily stylized but dreary science-fiction drama Stay takes place in a New York consumed by a plague of ennui so widespread that the mayor might want to consider pumping liquid Prozac into the water system. Suicidal depression seems as common as head colds, and even a prominently featured dog looks like it wishes someone would mix a little rat poison into its Alpo. Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland director Marc Forster seems to mistake this all-consuming gloom for cerebral atmosphere, but the film wears its heavy-handed pretensions like a death shroud. It's so unrelentingly morose that it makes Monster's Ball look like Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.
Embodying many of the worst aspects of self-consciously serious science fiction, from humorlessness to a flurry of highbrow references, the film casts a surprisingly stiff Ewan McGregor as a shrink who becomes obsessed with patient Ryan Gosling, a gifted yet haunted art student intent on committing suicide in three days, on the eve of his 21st birthday. Showing a level of concern and emotional investment rare in the psychiatric profession, McGregor races around New York trying to find Gosling before he can put himself—and, by extension, the film—out of his/its misery. But as increasingly freaky, Philip K. Dick-style shit starts to happen, the lines between reality, fantasy, the living, and the dead begin to blur, leading up to a twist ending audiences are programmed to see coming well in advance, both by the film's heavy-handed foreshadowing and because of its ubiquity in pretentious, dour science fiction like this. Who's dead? Who's alive? Is it all just a crazy dream? Unfortunately, with characters this shallow, performances this wooden, and dialogue this humorless and stilted (courtesy of 25th Hour scribe David Benioff), the answers to all those queries rapidly becomes "Who cares?"
It's become a tired cliché for characters in "serious" science-fiction movies not to realize they're dead or dying, but Stay as a film doesn't seem to realize that it's dead from the outset, an unconvincing automaton grimly going through the motions. Just because a movie is about the intersection of the living and the dead doesn't mean it should be devoid of life.