- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

The new psychological thriller “Stay” has a trick up its sleeve, but when the film shows its hand, it’s nothing but a pair of twos, at best.

It almost makes you want to break the reviewer’s creed and spill the beans here and now. That way, someone, somewhere will be saved from having 99 minutes excised from his life.

Instead of an unsettling look at death and the subconscious, we get a meditation on how not to weave a psychological thriller.

Ewan McGregor, with his year whiplashing between the highs of the final “Star Wars” feature and the meandering action of “The Island,” plays a psychiatrist named Sam who reaches out to a troubled young man named Henry (Ryan Gosling).

Henry plans to kill himself on his 21st birthday, which is just a few days away, but Sam can’t make much headway with him. The two never have an official office visit, but they keep running into each other because of Henry’s bizarro schedule.

Likewise, Sam can’t control his own life, particularly his relationship with Lila Culpepper (Naomi Watts, useless here in a superfluous role clearly beneath her), a suicide-survivor-turned-art-teacher with designs on creative immortality.

While Henry is hearing voices, Sam’s version of reality is playing tricks on him. His days, past and present, begin to overlap, enabling him to witness the same event twice — as though he has hopped into a time machine and set it on “yesterday.”

He even suffers a nasty bite from a dog that supposedly died years earlier.

Sam’s obsession with Henry forces him repeatedly to break his professional oath. Though Mr. McGregor often brings a sense of maturity to his roles that belies his age — he’s 34 — he looks like a little boy playing doctor throughout most of this film.

In one of the many preposterous sequences in “Stay,” his Sam eventually tracks down a waitress who may or may not be Henry’s girlfriend by visiting every diner in Manhattan to find her.

It’s tempting to brush off “Stay” as the rumblings of a music-video director left to baby-sit a studio-sized budget. However, director Marc Forster’s previous efforts include two Oscar-nominated films: last year’s “Finding Neverland” and 2001’s earnest but effective “Monster’s Ball.” Here he directs every other scene from a worm’s-eye view and uses segues for ridiculous visual tricks. By the time a forlorn-looking Janeane Garofalo shows up as Henry’s ex-psychiatrist, it’s hard not to giggle.

Mr. Forster’s direction does inspire a delirium of sorts, but the final sequences in “Stay” turn that dizziness into a muted anger.

Moviegoers may scratch their heads raw to wrap their brains around the film’s last 10 minutes, but they can’t say they haven’t been warned.

*

TITLE: “Stay”

RATING: R (Coarse language and some disturbing imagery)

CREDITS: Directed by Marc Forster. Written by David Benioff

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

WEB SITE: www.staythemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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