After being bumped from previous release dates and passed off from one distributor (Universal) to another (Open Road), Erik Van Looy’s “The Loft” finally opened on North American screens Jan. 30, just in time to be mostly ignored by its presumptive target demographic — i.e., young male moviegoers — during Super Bowl weekend. Even so, this outrageously over-plotted, borderline-campy erotic thriller might attract a slightly larger audience in ancillary platforms, if only because the unwary might misinterpret a synopsis of its plot — five buddies find an inconvenient corpse in the condo they use for their adulterous assignations — as a promise of fantasy fulfillment and dark comedy.
As it turns out, however, “The Loft” is not intentionally funny at all. Rather, it is a feverishly melodramatic mashup of “The Apartment” – try to imagine what might have happened had Jack Lemmon not foiled Shirley MacLaine’s suicide attempt – and “Murder on the Orient Express,” with naughty bits of “Very Bad Things” thrown in for good measure. It is also the second remake of director Van Loy’s very own “Loft” (written by Bart De Pauw), a 2008 production that was a record-smashing hit in the filmmaker’s native Belgium, and subsequently spawned a 2010 Netherlands-produced reprise directed by Antoinette Beumer.
The third time isn’t exactly the charm for this scenario. Still, there can be no denying the interest and suspense Van Loy and scripter Wesley Strick generate during the opening scenes as they set the plot mechanics into motion.
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Five married friends — womanizing architect Vincent (Karl Urban), sensitive psychiatrist Chris (James Marsden), portly horndog Marty (Eric Stonestreet), conspicuously repressed Luke (Wentworth Miller), and Chris’ mood-swinging, coke-snorting half-brother, Philip (Matthias Schoenaerts, repeating his role in the 2008 original) — agree to share a luxury apartment for their illicit rendezvous. Each has one of the only five keys to the place. And each in his own way takes advantage of a setup that allows for extramarital sin without the risk of incriminating evidence (credit card receipts, hotel bills, etc.)
Things get complicated when Chris falls hard for Anne (Rachel Taylor), the sister of a patient who committed suicide. Anne has found gainful employment in the world’s oldest profession, a fact revealed during one of the film’s many stretches of on-the-nose, inadvertently hilarious dialogue. (“I’m a whore … I’m a prostitute … I fuck men for money.” OK, OK, we get it.) But things get downright byzantine when another woman is found dead, handcuffed to the bed, in the high-rise love nest.
“The Loft” is structured as a series of interlocking and sometimes misleading flashbacks, as two aggressively cynical cops (Kristin Lehman and Robert Wisdom, acquitting themselves admirably in thankless roles) interrogate the friends at a point in the proceedings that only gradually becomes clear.
Curiously, none of the unusual suspects asks for a lawyer during the questioning. Amazingly, absolutely nothing is made of the fact that Chris is fixated on the sibling of a woman that he failed to save from an untimely demise. (Could this be a veiled “Vertigo” reference?) Predictably, some items planted early in the film — most conspicuously, a minor character’s need for insulin injections — pop up in the third act with all the subtlety of a blast from Chekhov’s gun.
Considering that they spend so much time acting at the top of their lungs, trading accusations and snarling recriminations, while their characters debate who’s responsible for, and what to do about, the dead body in their loft, the five leads earn kudos for their ability to come across as something approaching credible. Stonestreet emerges as the standout, primarily because his portrayal of the shamelessly randy Marty is such a change from his role on TV’s “Modern Family.”
Lenser Nicolas Karakatsanis and production designer Maia Javan do their considerable best to enhance the claustrophobic atmosphere during scenes in the eponymous setting. But the exterior scenes, shot in New Orleans, are unremarkably bland.