Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling, Janaeane Garofalo, Bob Hoskins, B.D. Wong
Written by: David Benioff
Directed by: Marc Forster
MPAA Rating: R for language and some disturbing images
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/24/2005

Stay (2005)

2 Stars (out of 4)

'Stay' Home

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After The Sixth Sense opened in 1999 to a box-office gold mine, Hollywood began feverishly hunting for more, similarly twisty thrillers that keep audiences guessing.

No one has really perfected a formula yet, but this much is true: for the first fifteen-sixteenths, the film can be as confusing or as complex as necessary. The magic comes in the final reveal. If you have a movie as good as The Sixth Sense, the reveal will shed new light on everything that took place before it, all the clues will click into place, and everyone will be properly surprised.

In lesser movies, the reveal will leave a few clues unchecked, or worse, it will betray everything that took place before, such as in the recent Flightplan. Now, with Marc Forster's Stay, the formula mutates a little further.

Stay certainly sets up its fair share of clues. It begins with a New York psychiatrist, Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor), who dresses in a mish-mash of tweedy, old-man suits and vests, and thin, London-mod clothing straight out of Blow Up, complete with poofy hair and high-water pants.

Sam lives with his beautiful girlfriend Lila (Naomi Watts), supposedly a former patient who once tried to kill herself and now paints and teaches art classes. Sam's world turns upside down when he meets Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling), a promising artist who pledges to commit suicide on the night of his 21st birthday.

Sam springs into action to try and stop him. He hops all over New York trying to dig into Henry's past, but he keeps running into ghosts -- figuratively, literally and/or both. He begins having weird visions, seeing the same scenes twice and hearing words over and over again.

All of this leads up to a promising reveal but what we get is a great big "huh?" Director Forster and writer David Benioff (25th Hour, Troy) chuck the logic from the first fifteen-sixteenths of the film in the hopes that their ending will blow our short-term memory circuits.

Technically, Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) continues to wander around in search of a style but during his wanderings he has failed to land anywhere or grasp anything. Stay packs its frames with tricky transitions, useless gimmick shots and distracting effects. These serve to distance the film from reality and only increase the sense of disappointment when the answer to the puzzle finally arrives.

Keeping viewers guessing is a noble tradition that assumes clever viewers and even cleverer filmmakers, but Stay banks on the notion that everyone is too dumb to notice.

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