In late 2014, Universal Pictures quietly released Joe Carnahan’s low-budget action comedy Stretch on Netflix. The film’s debut marked the end of a nearly two-year struggle to get the strange, little film seen by a wide audience. In the two years since its release, the Patrick Wilson vehicle has maintained a spot in Netflix’s catalogue and earned steadily positive reviews.
The trippy, dark, kinetic adventure never really got the marketing attention it deserved, a fact which never sat right with Carnahan, the film’s writer and director. Fortunately, Carnahan’s labor of love is now available for everyone to enjoy on Netflix, tucked low in the streaming site’s large cache of low-budget treasures.
The ‘Proof of Concept’
By 2012, Joe Carnahan had fought many fights in quest to tell a story that was one hundred percent his own. He was famously attached to direct one version of Mission: Impossible III before he left the project because the studio wanted something bigger and glitzier than he had in mind. His script pitted Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt against Kenneth Branagh’s mad bomber. It was a slightly quieter story than the series had told before, which wasn’t what the studio had in mind.
It was another in a long string if disappointments for Carnahan, one of the many stories that led to his writing his angry, LA-set comedy that follows a down-and-out limo driver on the worst night of his career. Carnahan’s hope was to create a small film that could produce a strong return but still be made on his own terms.
He called it his “proof of concept”.
The Battle For Distribution
Teaming with Blumhouse Productions, the guys best known for low budget horror films like the Paranormal Activity and Purge series, Carnahan successfully shot Stretch for a budget of under $5 million, relatively low stakes that he was hoping would tempt producers to keep their hands off the finished product.
Yeah, that didn’t happen. When they saw Carnahan’s cracked final cut, producers hired an outside editor to re-cut the film. Carnahan perservered, teaming with Jason Hellmann (Carnahan’s editor on The Grey) to find some common ground between parties.
Unfortunately, the film was still apparently too provocative for distributors, because everyone refused to touch it. Thanks to Universal’s good, working relationship with Blumhouse, the film ended up there, though the studio quickly passed on a theatrical release, much to Carnahan’s chagrin.
The Beauty of Creative Freedom
Patrick Wilson’s always moving trip through the weirdest parts of LA’s underworld is fucking strange, man. It’s a cavalcade of exclusive back rooms, deviant parties, and plenty of mobsters that’s a bizarre, emotionally-charged reflection of Carnahan’s relationship with the industry.
Though he may have undergone an unfriendly edit between his cut and the film’s release, there’s still plenty of Carnahan’s initial weirdness baked in. To some extent, Carnahan really never had a chance in hell of getting the film shown on wide theatrical release. From prostitutes with chillingly blank matte black masks to Ed Helm’s on-screen suicide, there’s little here that’s mainstream.
That being said, there’s more enthusiasm for oddity in Carnahan’s crazy carnival than you’ll find in films ten times the budget.
About Those Supporting Players
In spite of Stretch’s shoestring budget, there are still plenty of actors who drop by for a few jokes. Okay, a few “jokes” is underselling it, because the movie’s supporting cast attacks every one of their roles with manic glee. Ed Helms is clearly loving the ability to play a foul-mouthed specter whose soul purpose is to fuck with Patrick Wilson. Ray Liotta (who worked previously with Carnahan in 2007’s Smokin’ Aces), David Hasselhoff, and a few others clearly love playing themselves as assholes. Randy Couture is having all kinds of fun rocking a white wig as rival limo driver The Jovi.
Special attention has to be called to Chris Pike (also a Smokin’ Aces vet), though, for his balls out insane performance as Karos, the sex-crazed, drug-fueled schizophrenic on his way out of town as he runs from the FBI. Carnahan has given the actor two of the most interesting roles in his career and on both occasions the weird young actor has happily risen to the occasion.
Brooklyn Decker and Jessica Alba are there, too. On paper, both parts seem pretty boring, but both the script and the actresses themselves add some spark.
Poor Patrick Wilson
At the center of this swirling maelstrom is Patrick Wilson, an extremely talented actor who just can’t seem to catch his big break. He gained some notoriety for his role as a pedophile in Hard Candy, but Ellen Page went and righteously stole most of his thunder. Then he was queued up to lead Zack Snyder’s Watchmen which was viewed as an overblown, ultimately mediocre hero flick. Even though Wilson’s Night Owl was spot on, the film’s overarching failure didn’t exactly boost his career. A few years later, he starred in another low budget success story, Blumhouse Pictures’ Insidious, a film whose business model outshines its substance.
At any rate, Wilson plays the film’s main character, Stretch. (Yes, I know, the main character’s name is the same as the title and he drives a stretch limo … just move past it.) Though he may not be a household name, Wilson is a rare actor with the chops to both have fun with Stretch’s wildly veering emotional state and congeal it all into a solid leading performance. His deadpan delivery is a perfect avenue for Carnahan’s erratic tale.
Wrapping It Up
Stretch is a bona fide cult classic in its infancy. On a long enough time line, it might even find the praise it rightfully deserves. The mixture of mainstream plot points and coked-out set dressing makes for an adventure with an identity all its own, which is exactly what Joe Carnahan wanted, even if he had to pitch a fit to get there.