Once upon a time, the MTV jump cut was considered a mold-breaking video technique that shattered the attention spans of a generation of viewers, befuddled anybody from the Boomers on back. It set the precedent for a kind of cinematic mayhem that would come to pass decades later in the form of movies so whackadoodle, so Gonzo, so visually manic, that they kind of cause a migraine headache to watch, but the pain is so delicious that you hope the next 90 minutes will be the slowest of your life. Anyway, Joe Carnahan made a movie called Stretch, and yeah, it’s all kind of like that.
The story involves a down-and-out wannabe actor in L.A. who moonlights as a limo driver, Eponymously nicknamed Stretch, he’s riding out the after-effects of a romantic relationship that ended badly, and a lingering hangover from an even worse relationship with drugs and gambling. Though he’s been clean for a while and slowly getting his act together, he still owes $6,000 to a bookie/loan shark named Ignacio who just bought his debt and demands payment in full by midnight. With no way to pay it, he turns to his dispatcher Charlie, who is beautiful and into Stretch and in no way will end up being a surprise romantic interest at the end of the movie. Anyway, Charlie feels Stretch’s pain and promises to send him every high-risk, high-reward client they have, including an all-night ride with Roger Karos, a totally bonkers and debauched billionaire who offers to pay Stretch’s debts in full if he can keep up with Karos’ increasingly bizarre demands for the evening. As Stretch tends to his various clients, he gets pulled thinner and thinner until the only thing that’s gonna save him is his acting ability, and he’s already proven to himself that if there is one thing Los Angeles is full to the brim with, it’s people who think they can act but can’t.
This movie is like a hyperactive fever dream that fires a titanic broadside of vulgar parody at L.A. culture and Hollywood itself. It goes in every direction at once, and yet, goes nowhere, and all along, there’s this sense that that is exactly what was supposed to happen. The premise is fairly thin: a loser in trouble gets thrown a lifeline in the form of an extended episodic trip through the deepest recesses of Los Angeles’ collective id. That gives this movie the freedom it needs to pursue any number of tangents—from ghosts of suicidal limo drivers, to Ray Liotta being a complete asshole, to songs called “It’s Raining Tits”—typically to hilarious, if not head-scratching effect. And it does this all while weaving in and out of any number of subplots that somehow come together to form a complete tapestry, but only in the way that matted hair tends to do the same thing.
This movie feels like five years of loose ideas and observations about L.A. loaded into a cannon and fired like grapeshot at a blank screenplay. In so doing, it creates a portrait that is so totally over-the-top that we have to wonder if it is trying to say that this is what Los Angeles is really like if you let it swallow you whole, or that this is just the image of Los Angeles that fills the heads of every wannabe who heads to Tinseltown with delusions of grandeur. Probably a bit of both. This thing was made on a shoestring and involves enough A-list talent who couldn’t have been afforded otherwise to suggest that the only reason why anybody signed on to this project, apart from it probably looking like it would be a lot of fun, is that it allowed people to be in on an elaborate joke played on both their own community as well as the normies who idolize their profession for all the wrong reasons. If that’s so, then more power to them. Actors have given themselves over to far worse movies for far worse reasons. After all, Stretch might not be for everyone—and presents a bit of a learning curve to those for whom it is intended—but it is still a seriously supercharged blast of dark and bizarre humor that feels like it’s taking the mickey out of those who deserve it the most…whoever the hell they may be.
Stretch isn’t perfect, nor is it high cinema. But it was never meant to be. It’s a wireframe of a story that holds itself together just enough for us to enjoy the antics on screen, as well as to fill in the blank spots of this world with the kind of question marks that make you revisit this again in your mind long after you’ve seen it.
Oh, right. There’s supposed to be a moment of truth in here, isn’t there? One might be a little hard to find in Stretch, as this movie isn’t meant to be particularly profound. But there is a scene that so perfectly hits us between the eyes with a thunderbolt of profane brilliance that it might as well serve as the movie’s mission statement. They could have just played this one scene as the trailer, slapped a title card on it and called it a day. And it is…the Hoff.
Stretch, while making his rounds, ends up being an hour late to pick up David Hasselhoff at the airport, and when he finally shows up, there is the Hoff, with a glower on his face intense enough to melt titanium, and he gives Stretch a tongue-lashing so unexpectedly severe, so unexpectedly insane, and so unexpectedly hilarious, that if the Academy of Motion Pictures had any sense of humor at all, they would have done the Hoff a solid and honored a Best Supporting Actor nomination for it. Watch it. It’s that good. In fact, it’s the best two minutes you’ll spend all year. Just don’t let it make you late for anything.