'Stay' offers a vague, unbelievable ending

In 10 years, director Marc Forster has made five films, and not one of them looks as though it were done by the same guy. He's nothing if not stylistically flexible and clearly is doing everything he can to prove he has range. His last two films, "Monster's Ball" and "Finding Neverland," both received multiple Oscar nominations, which pretty much granted him carte blanche for the foreseeable future.

With "Stay," Forster continues to expand his range, and as far as style is concerned, this movie is overflowing with it - but not always in a good way. It's one of those movies that after about 10 minutes, you realize all or part of it is a dream. This same thing took place in both "The Sixth Sense" and "Fight Club," and, in addition to the dream factor, Forster (and screenwriter David Benioff) goes for a big surprise twist ending that is at best vague and at worst incomprehensible.

It opens with a meeting between psychiatrist Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) and his temporary patient, Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling). It's temporary because Sam is just filling in for Henry's full-time therapist (Janeane Garofalo) who is a bit under the weather. This imagined slight really gets under Henry's skin, a situation made worse when Sam forgets key details found in Henry's dossier.

Henry is a manic depressive with a survivor's guilt complex who casually tells Sam he'll be committing suicide within the next 48 hours. Sam tells Henry a threatened death must be reported to the police, yet he fails to do so (the first of many contradictory plot points). Instead, Sam turns into a would-be gumshoe, doing his best to track down Henry's parents and girlfriend in an effort to get them involved. This venture gets regularly interrupted by Sam's live-in artist girlfriend, Lila (Naomi Watts), who begs Sam to clue her in on all the juicy details, a direct violation of doctor/patient confidentiality.

As things progress, Forster amps up the special effects, and by the middle of the third act, you'll feel as though you're suffering through a bad acid trip. The editing and camera work become increasingly jittery, the stock muddled and over-saturated. All of it simply overwhelms the already confusing plot. Needless to say, it's a far cry from the relatively sedate, mainstream approach of "Finding Neverland," easily Forster's best effort to date.

Forster was lucky to find three leads who were all perfect for their parts. Reminiscent of his twisted, blank-stare character from "Murder by Numbers," Gosling's unkempt and disheveled Henry makes the perfect nihilistic anti-hero. McGregor offers up just the right balance of concern and intensity and is able to make even the most mundane detail seem important. Watts turns in another variation of the "tortured artist syndrome" she displayed so well in "Mulholland Drive" and "21 Grams."

As psychological thrillers go, this one isn't "bad" so much as it is unfulfilled. The filmmakers should have taken the time they spent on the technical aspects and instead put it towards fleshing out the story. (Fox)