Groucho Marx once said, “It’s better to have loft and lost than never to have loft at all,” but Groucho clearly hadn’t anticipated Erik Van Looy’s The Loft. Oh, I’ve seen worse movies, and I question if it really deserves that zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes (granted, there are only 17 reviews at this point) — surely, someone likes it — but the best thing I can say about it is that it’s so overwrought and takes itself so seriously that it’s ultimately pretty funny. By far the most startling thing about it is that anyone thought this story needed telling a third time — and not just one anyone, but a group of them had to come to this crackpot conclusion. You see, Mr. Van Looy made Loft in Belgium in 2008 from a script by someone named Bart De Pauw. For some reason, Mr. De Pauw’s screenplay was then remade by someone else — again as Loft — in the Netherlands in 2010 (where Van Looy seems to have stepped in to shoot part of that version). Now we have The Loft (it grew the article crossing the Atlantic, I guess) with Van Looy again at the helm. Judging by stills from the first film, this appears to be a virtual shot-for-shot copy of the original. It also seems to have been sitting on a shelf since 2011 before skulking into theaters in the dead of winter this year. It’s easy to see why.
The supposed advantage here is that this one is in English and has name actors for four of the five main characters. Only Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead, The Drop) carries over from the original. English is certainly a U.S. box office plus, but Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller and Eric Stonestreet have never carried a picture — something this is unlikely to change. It is not entirely their fault — even though Stonestreet seems to be overcompensating (again) for his role on TV’s Modern Family by being the most priapic heterosexual in this quintet of horndogs. The screenplay undermines this lot at every turn.
You see, the whole premise is based on the fact that sleazy architect Vincent Stevens (Urban) has set aside the loft in question in his new building for his four friends and himself to use for encounters of the extramarital kind. Ah, but the best planned lays of mice and men (and these guys are definitely in the rodent family) often go agley — as poet Robert Burns puts it — and that happens here when the testosterone-fueled herd finds a dead woman handcuffed to the bed in their loft. Since the five are the only ones with keys to the place — not to mention the security code — it stands to reason that one of them “dunit.” But which one? Is it sleazy Vincent? Rabbity Chris (Marsden)? Nervous straight-arrow Luke (Miller)? Blustering Marty (Stonestreet)? Full-blown psycho Philip (Schoenaerts)? Here’s the problem — long before the movie’s over you not only won’t care, you’d be happy to ship them all off to the chair.
The central problem with the film is that all of the characters — not just the men, but their barely sketched-in wives — are thoroughly reprehensible examples of humanity. Plus, the more we find out about them over the course of the increasingly absurd story, the more sleazy and creepy they become. That might have worked if the movie was played for black comedy, but, oh no, The Loft takes itself very seriously indeed. The only humor to be found is of the strictly unintended variety — there’s plenty of that toward the end when the silly, twisted plot’s climax that won’t withstand even casual scrutiny.
The Loft works strictly by cheating the audience with bits of misdirection through its fractured flashback approach to story telling. I freely concede that the structure is sometimes pretty clever, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s completely unbelievable. For that matter, it’s all predicated on the incredible idea that the accused aren’t entitled to legal counsel until someone confesses. That none of these guys clam-up and refuse to talk without a lawyer is astonishing. OK, maybe it’s not as astonishing as the idea that this story needed telling a third time, but it’s pushing it. Rated R for sexual content, nudity, bloody violence, language and some drug use.