Travis Leamons // Film Critic
Some filmmakers make movies to cause adrenaline spikes and a frenzy of excitement. Michael Bay might as well be the poster child. His entire oeuvre is built around high concepts, massive budgets, fast cuts, and elaborate visuals and special effects.
Not far behind is Joe Carnahan.
He started small with the likes of NARC before upping the ante with the all-star action thriller SMOKIN’ ACES. After the financial misfire that was a movie reboot of THE A-TEAM, Carnahan rebounded somewhat with the Liam Neeson survival tale THE GREY. Then he would make STRETCH, a dark comedy so audacious and insanely odd that Universal Pictures pulled the plugin releasing it theatrically back in 2014.
As low-budget producer Jason Blum was rising in stature with his horror franchises INSIDIOUS, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, and THE PURGE, and as Carnahan was on the decline – not being able to work with enormous sums of money – the two joined forces on a silly little genre flick that should have easily made its five million dollars back in theaters. But when studio bigwigs started second-guessing its potential, finding it easier to chuck it to VOD, it proved that high concepts have a height limit after all.
Patrick Wilson is our protagonist, “Stretch,” and he’s not having a good day. His girlfriend Candace (Brooklyn Decker) previously dumped him during sex and is now arm candy for a football player. He’s giving sobriety a go, and he’s not having much fun. Oh, and Stretch has 24 hours to pay off a $6,000 gambling debt to the Mexican mob. Working around the clock in cleaning up clients’ messes and poaching others (like Ray Liotta) from the competition, Stretch needs a big fish that likes to tip generously. And those types of clients don’t just drop out of the sky— except for today.
Stretch’s fortunes change when he picks up the eccentric billionaire Roger Karos (Chris Pine). We’re talking Howard Hughes on Adderall eccentric. Karos needs the car for the night, which leads Stretch to one wild situation after another. If he’s not brokering a money deal on Karos’ behalf, Stretch is sending slick texts with a woman on a dating app or his former driver-mentor is visiting him, now hallucination, “Karl with a K” (Ed Helms), as he tries to make it through the night in one piece.
Karl’s random appearances are haunting reminders to Stretch that this could be him if he doesn’t make a change. He’s already at the bottom, so life can’t get much worse. As he works through self-doubt, aided by an inner-monologue full of hard truths, our hero starts to transform. Stretch’s journey is trial by fire, and Carnahan throttles him with madcap misadventures to see how far he can take him.
Considering the movie’s set in Los Angeles, involves an aspiring actor in a soul-crushing job chauffeuring celebrities around in a limousine, the occurrences depicted, odd as they are, may be all in a day’s work. We should be so lucky if our jobs included hookers in Halloween costumes, a run-in with Ray Liotta, and having Jessica Alba as a limo company receptionist.
Patrick Wilson is fun and charismatic as the put-upon Stretch: the guy that can’t catch a break – as an actor, driver, lover, gambler. But Wilson is totally upstaged by Pine’s unbilled performance. Karos is sleazy and manipulative; a billionaire that flaunts his bizarre behavior, be it through clothing choices or being chauffeured to wild sex parties whose guest list looks like EYES WIDE SHUT meets THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.
Even if it had been DOA in theaters, STRETCH most assuredly would have found its audience on home video. It has its legion of fans, and with Kino Lorber releasing it to Blu-ray, those who haven’t already discovered it on VOD can join the party. Pass it on to friends so they can enjoy the ride.
The Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
- Two audio commentaries. The first involves film historian Eddy Von Mueller talking about Joe Carnahan’s visual style and approach to the story. The second has the director discussing the movie with daughter Maile and son Rockne. Carnahan gives us a rundown of the shooting locations, the story behind the movie, the cast and cameos, and the balancing act with blending humor and action.
- Interview with Patrick Wilson – Stretch gives us a nice 13-minute Zoom interview as he discusses the film’s twisted sense of humor.
- Trailer for STRETCH and additional KL releases – THE VEIL, THURSDAY, and HOLLYWOODLAND
The same year Joe Carnahan made his debut with BLOODS, GUTS, BULLETS AND OCTANE (1998), Skip Woods debuted THURSDAY at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Upon seeing its premiere, film critic Roger Ebert wrote that the film was “a series of geek-show sequences in which characters are tortured, raped, murdered and dismembered in-between passages of sexist and racist language.” The bulk of his review breaks down how characters in the movie are killed. Not a single spoiler alert in sight.
I’ll save the body count, but agree that Woods’ debut owes a great deal to Quentin Tarantino. The independent film market was booming in the 1990s in large part to the success of PULP FICTION. This ushered in copycats and imitators. And while Tarantino has been very candid about stealing from past movies and pop culture to fuel his imagination, very few movies that tried to emulate the director’s style were all that good.
THURSDAY is not one of the lucky few.
His one and only film in a writing and directing capacity – he would go on to pen many flashy blockbusters like SWORDFISH (the cyber-thriller that gained notoriety for the salary bonus Halle Berry got for a topless scene) and even Joe Carnahan’s A-TEAM reboot – Skip Woods’ THURSDAY is tough to decipher. It’s a story about two L.A. drug-dealing friends that go their separate ways after a deal turns violent. Come early one Thursday morning years later, Casey (Thomas Jane), now in Texas, married and working as an architect, gets a call from his old partner, Nick (Aaron Eckhart). He’s needing a place to stay a few days before flying overseas to Paris. Pulling to the curb in a red Ferrari, Nick has an overnight bag and a case full of heroin. Things go from worse to worser to worst as Casey receives a number of unwanted houseguests that are either looking for Nick or wanting heroin. Except for Dr. Jarvis (Michael Jeter), the adoption agent stops by to interview Casey to see his suitability as an adopting parent.
Despite having Thomas Jane and Aaron Eckhart, both a pair of up-and-coming actors at the time, Glenn Plummer as a Rastafarian heroin dealer, Mickey Rourke as a dirty cop, and Czech model-actress Paulina Porizkova, as Dallas, a dominatrix in a red leather dress, the ensemble for this black comedy fails to generate laughs or much of anything.
THURSDAY is total exploitation but done without a sense of purpose. Something violent occurs every few minutes with little justification—white characters using the n-word flippantly in conversation. Woods is either tone-deaf or he’s oblivious to his own story.
If pop culture was Tarantino’s imagination food, Woods must’ve been chugging antifreeze in trying to nail the hip, cool vibe of RESERVOIR DOGS or PULP FICTION. The problem is that Woods can’t help himself with at the helm. He switches from black comedy to visual horror and back again on a dime that everything becomes vapid. A solo flashback sequence shot in black-and-white, while the others remain in color, is of no significance. The only touch of originality may be in the drug deal’s production design, where Casey and Nick go their separate ways. As the story is recounted in separate flashbacks, the interior is different. No explanation is given, leaving us to reason we see what we want to believe.
Had Skip Woods not been so absent-minded and tried to be more serious, THURSDAY could have been a fair neo-noir-type thriller. Instead, it has about as much temerity as an MTV music video.
The Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
- Audio commentary from Australian film critic Sally Christie.
- Interview with Thomas Jane is very stream of consciousness recounting of his career as an actor at that time. Includes his interactions with Marlon Brando attending one of his acting classes, shooting THE THIN RED LINE with Terrence Malick, and later encountering Mickey Rourke before they did THURSDAY. (Rourke was also part of the Malick’s WWII drama, but all his scenes were cut.)
- Trailer for THURSDAY and additional KL releases – STRETCH, THE VEIL, and THE UNDERNEATH.