Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Lofty Ambitions: A Review of The Loft
I've never seen the original version of The Loft, so I can't say one way or another whether the English-language remake is true to the material or an improvement on it or not. I can imagine it makes for a pretty good idea for a movie. While the actual execution of this version of The Loft is far too convoluted for its own good, in certain ways, I found it all trashy fun (even if it wasn't aiming for trashy fun).
Vincent Stevens (Karl Urban), an architect, invites four friends to share a private loft at his newest building as a secret hideout for assignations. These friends, mild-mannered psychiatrist Chris Vanowen (James Marsden), Chris' hot-tempered half-brother Philip Trauner (Matthias Schoenaerts), boorish Marty Landry (Eric Stonestreet), and repressed Luke Seacord (Wentworth Miller), are open to the idea to varying degrees. Philip and Marty jump at the chance, Luke reluctantly agrees, and Chris at first declines. It isn't until he sees Anne Morris (Rachel Taylor), the sister of a patient who committed suicide, that he begins his very first affair (which is the opposite of his best friend Vince, a serial cheater par excellence). Chris falls in love with Anne, even after she tells him she's a hooker. Vince is eager to get at design contracts with Philip's father-in-law Hiram Fry (Grant Beckel). In San Diego, Vince, Luke, and Marty see Hiram with a mistress, which Vince uses to his advantage. He also sees Sarah Deakins (Isabel Lucas), and while it's difficult to say who seduced whom, they begin an affair.
Things get complicated when Sarah is found dead in the loft, wrist slashed, handcuffed, with a Latin phrase written in blood. One of them apparently did it, and now we have to find whom among them is a murderer. The Loft goes through various flashbacks to recount how we got into this mess, with all of them being questioned by Detectives Huggins (Kristen Lehman) and Cohagan (Robert Wisdom). We get twists and turns until coming to a variety of conclusions that get more and more outlandish, and six months later, all but Marty are divorced (and one facing trial), but good news: Anne is no longer a hooker!
The Loft keeps going wrong every time it tries to be cleverer and cleverer by throwing in so many red herrings and twists and then never doing anything with them. Take for example the situation with the keys. There are only five keys to 'the loft', so someone had to use the key to get in. We see in one of the flashbacks a clearly besotted Chris GIVE HIS KEY AWAY TO ANNE, but a.) he apparently doesn't mention this to any of the guys (the flashbacks don't make it clear if they are telling the others about what happened or remembering privately) and b.) nothing ever comes of this, because when we find out the truth, it seems more overdone than anything else. Again and again we get things thrown in that end up irrelevant (Hiram speaks Latin! Anne's sister was Chris' patient!) or rather outlandish (Anne was paid to seduce Chris for the silliest of reasons!).
Things get worse as we go back and see how this all came about. Wesley Strick's screenplay (based on the original screenplay by Bart De Pauw) wants to be clever, but it ends up making things ridiculously complicated and convoluted with the resolution upon resolution (even after we discover what happened in the loft, Strick couldn't resist putting in more twists and turns to make things more far-fetched).
It also doesn't help that on the whole, everyone in The Loft is rather reprehensive. This leads to some truly embarrassing moments for the cast trying (I figure) to do their best with the material. Stonestreet I think fares worse. Now, I confess to never having seen Modern Family, but I take it he plays a gay man on the show. Here, one guesses that he relished played a perpetually horny straight guy, but all his gutter talk about tits and asses and how he's always after some (even going so far as to openly talk about deflowering Philip's sister at Philip's wedding), he ends up coming across as a gay man trying desperately to come off as a parody of a straight man (think Neil Patrick Harris' Barney Stinson if NPH was tried to convince everyone he was straight in real life and used Barney as his model of straightness).
Speaking of straight, The Loft has a bizarre take on Luke. He is the only one who apparently doesn't make overtly crass comments or is seen ogling women or known to use the loft for assignations. Therefore, why would he want a key to this pleasure palace? The film strongly suggests that Luke is secretly gay, and in love (or lust) with Vince. Things don't get easier when we discover that Luke gets his jollies not from using the loft for sexual encounters but apparently by videotaping Vince's various sexual encounters (and possibly masturbating to them). IF maybe we had discovered Luke WAS gay, and that he and Vince DID have at least a one-time fling, things could have been more interesting, but The Loft wasn't about to go there, being in turns provocative in plot but tepid in execution.
As a side note, Vince's sexual trysts include, among those with the dead Sarah, Philip's sister (whom he deflowered and whom coke-head Philip is extremely protective of), Marty's drunk wife, and Anne! The guy's like a sex addict (and yes, I know it's Karl Urban, but still...).
Exactly why Luke records all of Vince's trysts (I'm not sure he recorded anyone else's) or whether Luke did harbor secret passions for Vince is left unclear. However, Luke is 'straightened out' with a plot twist that even by The Loft's standards is pretty outlandish, even comical.
As another side note, while the film was made in 2011 and released this year, the fact that in the interim Wentworth Miller did himself come out of the closet as a gay man makes things all the more curious when watching. It would be fascinating to know what a closeted gay man (at the time) thought of playing a man who may be closeted in a movie like this.
Marsden looks either lost or with eternal puppy-eyes at his love interest, so his range is limited. Urban (much better than this) is just smoothly sleazy (and the idea that he is anywhere near a family man is laughable and simply unbelievable). Schoenaerts, recreating his role from the original Flemish-language film, is there apparently to do the dirty work, get high, beat people up, and do it all with a gravelly voice.
In short, they are all one-note caricatures. Even worse, it never looks like these guys would run in the same circles, let alone be the bestest of friends.
If the men are all sleazy, apparently it's not without cause, for The Loft makes all the wives shrewish and unlikable. Mean, bitter, and pretty much unappealing, one wonders why any of the men would want to be with them. Perhaps this was some sort of bizarre justification for the philandering, but it doesn't help their case. The non-wives were all essentially whores (paid or not), and here we see one of The Loft's biggest problems: there is no one to root for, no one to care about. The closest is Marsden's character, and he was willing to go along with a frame-up job! Even the cops come across as smug (and why in the various interrogation scenes none of these allegedly bright men asked for lawyers is one thing the film won't bother answering).
Credit has to be given where it's due, and director Erik Van Looy (remaking his own film, which is technically the third version, a Dutch remake coming in between the original Belgian film and this American take) is quite artsy with his shots. The endless rotations of each interrogation, and the cinematic and lush scenes of seduction and the loft whenever we go back to these five repulsive figures trying to figure out what happened were pretty to look at (and in fairness, all but Stonestreet's schlub, nicknamed 'Tubs' by his wife, were equally pretty to look at).
The fact that these guys were essentially let off the hook for their behavior (except for one who killed himself and one written off for murder) is the perfect coda to the oddball lunacy of The Loft. It's not a good film, but I was entertained by how twisty and nonsensical it seemed determined to get. If one wants a good laugh at a film trying to be serious, mysterious, and erotic and stumbling every step of the way, The Loft is right on the money.