The James Marsden thriller The Loft is opening nationwide with little fanfare, arriving at January's tail with no press screenings. Yet three months ago the movie, a remake of the highest-grossing Flemish film in history, was the gala opener to Film Fest Gent, a major international film festival in Ghent, Belgium spotlighting new works from across Europe and elsewhere. Director Erik Van Looy also helmed the original, and introduced the film by making a crude joke about Pakistan, thereby setting the garish tone for what was to follow. The movie follows five slimy men who buy a fancy city apartment so they can cheat on their wives undetected. It's as nasty as its heroes, and isn't competent enough to know it.
The Loft's strongest element is its premise, which feels like Agatha Christie after dark. The luxury property's sleek steel charms seem like the perfect escape for these busy modern gentlemen: naive romantic Chris (Marsden); suave mercenary Vincent (Karl Urban from the new Star Treks); twitchy silent type Luke (Prison Break's Wentworth Miller); crude sex fiend Marty (Eric Stonestreet, the polar opposite of his Modern Family hubby); and hot fuse Philip, whose hobbies include waiting until the worst possible moment to bump coke and start fights (Matthias Schoenaerts, reprising his original role). One day an attractive young woman (Isabel Lucas) turns up dead in the loft, handcuffed to the shared bed, her blood coating the sheets. Since there are only five keys, the film becomes a whodunit.
There's reason to expect some fun with this setup, since all five men are in need of retribution and the prospect of them turning on each other has promise. But the film thinks it's an important adult male drama, and never misses a chance to strike a sour note. There's a coded, ponderous Latin phrase scrawled in blood. Van Looy returns to the image of the dead naked girl's brutalized, blonde corpse a half-dozen times. And there are hints that one member of the quintet may be gay, information the film treats as though he were a serial killer. (The movie was shot in 2011; the actor came out in 2013, and has publicly discussed how his secret nearly drove him to suicide.) With a wink, this could have been pulp. Alas, no one winks.
Flashbacks upon flashbacks unfold while the five guys pace around in the loft, examining the corpse. Somehow everyone has betrayed everyone else, in a timeline that becomes more ludicrous with every reveal: business deals, spousal relations, secret videotapes. Van Looy shoots and paces the action like a telenovela, with an abundance of medium-shots, cheap sets, and a ponderous score. When revealing her profession to a man she's just lured into bed, one woman says, "I'm a whore." Pause. "I'm a prostitute." Pause. "I sleep with men for money." It's the triple-washed lettuce of movie dialogue.
None of the five leads seem aware they're playing caricatures, and all deliver their accusations with the utmost seriousness. This is with the possible exception of Stonestreet, whose performance is so over-the-top (when there are no women around he seems to dry-hump the air) that an argument could be made for it as winking camp. Mostly everyone, especially Marsden, seems lost in a daze, as expected with a script that requires them to make idiotic decisions and act oblivious when they backfire. The Loft has shuffled through studios and release dates in movie purgatory for three years. Now it may rest in peace.