Marc Forster is a young director who’s had an incredible string of luck, helping Halle Berry win an Oscar for the resolutely dour Monster’s Ball, and snagging top-notch talent for his restrained crowd-pleaser Finding Neverland. All of his films have at least one false moment, but never have they been as 100 percent bogus and wrong-headed as Stay, a glossy, star-packed flaming crock of shit. Blame it on Troy writer David Benioff’s silly, twist-addled script, but Forster is ultimately responsible for the pointless, showy camera angles, the lame, digitally enhanced edits, and the circa-1995 trip-hop score. His movie is like a perfume commercial attempting to make a profound statement.

A plot description hardly seems to matter in light of the film’s big secret, which — and this is not giving anything away — is designed to invalidate everything that comes before it. But, here goes: Ewan McGregor plays Sam, a shrink with a tendency to wear high-waters and dress shoes without socks, whose latest basket case is the mumbling, “smells like he hasn’t had a shower in months” art student Henry (Ryan Gosling). The filmmakers indicate Henry is crazy by dressing him in shades of black, grey and plum, and having him extinguish cigarettes on his arm. There are flashbacks to a fiery SUV wreck Henry experienced, as well as plenty of pointless stuff back at home with Sam’s once-suicidal girlfriend Lila (Naomi Watts, whose considerable talents are wasted here). Henry calls Sam to announce he’s going to kill himself, which sends Sam on an Alice in Wonderland-style chase through the streets of a strangely empty New York City.

Forster blows his wad early on. Using off-kilter angles and psychedelic flashbacks, the director gets all freaky and surreal within the first 10 minutes, so we’re immediately aware that nothing the characters say or do is to be trusted in this netherworld. The Matrix had more reality than Stay, which is as vague and meaningless as its one-word title. One can only imagine the producers pitching it: “It’s a grown-up Sixth Sense! It’s Jacob’s Ladder without all that depressing Vietnam stuff!” Actually, it’s more like a carbon copy of Christian Bale’s extreme weight-loss training film, The Machinist. That movie was similarly pointless, but at least boasted a stunning production design and a few intentional laughs. Stay, on the other hand, straitjackets two of the funniest women alive, Janeane Garofalo and Amy Sedaris, by casting them as morbid and depressed. At one point, Henry quotes his favorite painter, voicing his preference for bad art over good art: “Bad art teaches you about failure.” If you want to learn about failure, buy a ticket to Stay.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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