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The true test of a mystery is if, after the mechanics of the misdirection are revealed, those mechanics are as impressive as the misdirection itself. In THE LOFT, this is indubitably the case. Fiendishly clever, it keeps us off-balance with such finesse what we are unaware that our balance has been impaired, and, when we realize it, thoroughly enjoy having been discombobulated. Alas, a fine premise is lost in an exercise of reimagining that is artsy to watch, yet ringingly discordant to hear with a saggy middle that has no place in what wants to be a taut thriller.
A remake of a Belgian film of the same name that broke all kinds of box-office records, there, it is the tale of five friends who have come up with a discreet and economical way to cheat on their wives. They split the cost of the eponymous location five ways and thereby have a chic place to take their assignations. It’s foolproof until a dead blonde is discovered in the loft’s bed. Not just dead, but handcuffed, sliced up, and suggestively deshabille.
With only five keys giving access, and the alarm system disarmed, the five quite reasonably suspect one another of the crime, turning one another in turn as flashbacks and flashforwards fill in the backstories of marital unhappiness, various degrees of emotional betrayal, and, eventually, just who it was who went off the balcony in the very first scene.
The direction by the original’s director, Erik Van Looy teeters a bit into the artsy, though the shallow focus used as time, space, and tension telescope is a fine device used in moderation. Fortunately the actors all keep a straight face while playing it all just a little too cool. James Marsden as the psychiatrist with the cold wife and the hot temptation (Rachael Taylor) to stray struggles with the handsome plasticity of his dazzling good looks and fierce and sharp jawline; Karl Urban as the architect who hatches the plan and makes the most of it strikes an excellent balance between smooth and smarmy; Eric Stonestreet could, but doesn’t, chew the scenery as a schlubby horndog talking a better game than he could ever hope to play; Wentworth Miller as the quiet one nursing a secret could be a bit less leaden. Only Matthais Schoenaerts, who was also in the original, injects some genuine spirit into his character while also keeping a straight face. If only he didn’t look older than Marsden, who plays his much older half-brother in the film. The women of the piece are interchangeably either frigid, sphere-busting, or wanton, spackled in too much makeup, which may have something to do with why their men fear and/or exploit them.
Still, there is that ci-mentioned clever script. Perhaps the right thing to do is to find the original and watch that film unfold the secrets of the story.