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‘Stay’ goes absolutely nowhere

McGregor phones in his role as a psychiatrist treating a troubled patient. By John Hartl

What hath “The Sixth Sense” wrought? “I see dead people” could be a line from half a dozen movies released in the past few months.

Reese Witherspoon is a ghost through much of “Just Like Heaven.” In “Proof,” Gwyneth Paltrow has lengthy discussions with her dead dad (Anthony Hopkins). Courteney Cox spends most of “November” in the land of the living dead. And the title says it all in Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride.”

All of these are to some degree interesting movies, but the idea of mixing up the dead and the undead goes nowhere in Marc Forster’s tiresome new thriller, “Stay.” The director serves up a bag of tricks — spooky sounds, hallucinatory photography, slippery editing — that seem designed to cover up the fact that the movie has no story and can’t deliver a satisfying surprise ending.

The script by David Benioff, who wrote the disappointing screenplays for “Troy” and “The 25th Hour,” hints at a kind of “mind meld” between a New York psychiatrist, Sam (Ewan McGregor), and a distressed patient, Henry (Ryan Gosling), who hears voices and may be capable of predicting the weather and restoring vision to the blind.

Sam appears to be on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend and former patient, Lila (Naomi Watts), when Henry’s hallucinations begin to interfere with his life. He freaks out when she calls him “Henry” at one point, but the blend of identities is hardly news to the audience, which has been watching Henry and Sam slip in and out of each other’s consciousness through most of the picture.

Also contributing to Sam and Henry’s sense of unease: a chess-playing doctor (Bob Hoskins) who sends Henry into a hysterical fit; a cranky woman (Kate Burton) who claims to be Henry’s long-dead mother; a bean-counter doctor (B.D. Wong) who can’t be bothered with Henry’s suicidal threats; and a mysterious actress named Athena (Elizabeth Reaser) who takes time off from playing Ophelia to entrance Henry.

Forster directed Halle Berry’s Oscar-winning performance in “Monster’s Ball” as well as Johnny Depp’s Oscar-nominated work in last year’s “Finding Neverland,” but this time he seems to have spent more time on creating deja-vu visual and aural effects than on helping his actors.

McGregor delivers the kind of phoned-in performance familiar from his “Star Wars” outings. Hoskins, Wong and Janeane Garofalo (playing another of Henry’s therapists) are distractions; they’re too recognizable to be playing such tiny roles. Watts works hard to overcome a one-dimensional character, but the effort shows.

Occasionally Gosling and Reaser succeed in connecting with this mumbo-jumbo and making it click, though Gosling is too often forced into playing Henry as a showy masochist (he prefers to extinguish cigarettes in his own flesh) who makes empty threats toward his shrink. The early scenes between Henry and Sam, in which they’re circling each other and gradually going beyond the limits of a doctor-patient relationship, are more compelling than the pretentious light show that follows.