starring The Rock, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, DeObia Oparei
screenplay by David Callaham and Wesley Strick
directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak
starring Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling, Janeane Garofalo
screenplay by David Benioff
directed by Marc Forster
by Walter Chaw For a split second, the clouds part and I think I've kenned a glimmer of an idea in Andrzej Bartkowiak's video game adaptation Doom that doesn't involve homoerotic gun worship or ripping off everything from Aliens save its humanity. Semper Fi, gung ho, muscle-bound jarhead Sarge (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) takes it upon himself to order his own mini-Mai Lai because he's a stickler for details, and his stock marines balk to varying degrees of morality-inspired mutiny. Suddenly, and just for that split second, Doom of all things becomes Casualties of War (and, in fact, literalizes that film's tagline of "In war, innocence is the first casualty"), and although what's leading up to the moment isn't that great, I was ready to roll with this totally unexpected, thought-provoking tickle. Alas--it flees like hope so often does, leaving fifteen minutes of semi-gory first-person perspective to simulate the first-person perspective of the video game (marking this as the first--and probably last--time someone thought that ripping off Uwe Boll was a good idea), ending with the sort of mano-a-mano showdown between its warring alpha males that everyone's seen enough of by now.
Something about an American accent for a lot of European actors appears to take its toll on their ability to perform--and while that's no excuse for Pike (who speaks in what I can only assume is her natural Queen's mannequin drone in Pride & Prejudice), I've noticed that Ewan McGregor, already a limited actor, is genuinely abominable when shed of his rakish brogue. Take Stay for instance, the latest from director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) and screenwriter David Benioff (25th Hour), which features busy McGregor and busy Naomi Watts as a couple in love and dealing with her (Watts's Lila) attempted suicide, the ordeal of which McGregor's character (psychiatrist Sam) has somewhat unscrupulously helped her through. Complicating the stew is new patient Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling--terminally typecast now as the guy you least want your daughter dating), a morose painter and art student who tells Henry that he's going to kill himself at the stroke of midnight in three days' time. As Sam runs around Brooklyn, playing chess with his blind buddy Leon (Bob Hoskins) and staging a one-man intervention for his broke-down colleague Beth (Janeane Garofalo), he comes to believe that his whole existence is tied somehow to this mopey little son of a bitch.
Stay is an iron lung for a twist--an antiquated, clumsy life support system for a dusty old "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" conceit brought off so pretentiously that it looks more like a bad student film than like a popularly celebrated director's fifth feature film. Forster is in retrograde here, doing filmmaking as a kitchen sink: doubling McGregor and Gosling; posing identical twins and triplets as extras in its background shots; using mirrors and editing tricks; suggesting teleportation; chopping the visual flow with pillars to disguise cuts; overusing morph software; overusing overlapping dissolves; and having the gall to name a character after the Greek goddess of wisdom before asking her to peel off lines ("I could be bounded in a nut-shell and count myself the king of infinite space") from "Hamlet" that reveal, none-too-cleverly, everything one needs know about the thing. One scene of incandescent, sparkling genius finds Henry standing against an aquarium's glass wall as a sea lion tries to bite his head--a moment deflated by the appearance of a painting of a sea lion resting on struggling artist Lila's table the scene following. I get it--it's pretentious. I learned a lot of things in grad school; how to be pretentious was high on that list and I was a good student.
I understand that Forster is experimenting with "infinite interiority" and that besides all the aforementioned trickery, he's trying to express this idea through a series of shout-outs to M.C. Escher. (Note, or don't, the globes, the Moebius strips, and the vertiginous, spiralling stairwells.) I get that Forster might be playing with Sam's sexuality in having his pose feminized on a park bench in contrast to Lila's masculine posture as well as, later, when B.D. Wong's soul-patched, world-weary psych resident takes a provocative drink out of a fountain placed at Sam's crotch-level. I even get that Forster's tendency to retreat into fantasy has led him to this dead end. But Stay is a metaphysical film that has no existential thoughts in its head; in other words, it's possible (more likely, in fact) to "get" Stay and still dislike it for being an empty, pointless, self-aggrandizing technical exercise in things we don't care about and people we never for a moment recognize as human, thus we aren't surprised when the jack jumps out of the box declaring that, so to speak, "Bruce Willis is a ghost." The better/only mystery is why costume designer Frank L. Fleming seems dedicated to making McGregor look like Buster Brown in high water pants and dickey (shades of Hulot in Jacques Tati's Playtime? Yeah, I get that, too, but in keeping with the rest of Stay: to what end?). There's something to keep you up at night when nothing else about the film will. Originally published: October 21, 2005.