Nori is a lot like a young anime heroine forced to come into her own by sudden adversity. She is also being stalked by a Japanese pop-star (the actor, not the character). Yet, this film looks and feels more like low budget American indie quickie, because that is what it is. There are a lot of intriguing elements, but the energy level is lacking when Joe Sill’s Stray opens tomorrow in New York.
Fresh off her own, personal, shorthand-character-establishing tragedy, Det. Murphy draws the darnedest case. Kyoko was not merely murdered. She was “petrified,” aged thousands of years in a CGI flash. She was Nori’s mother, so that means the young woman will be left alone when her grandmother is subsequently killed, under similarly bizarre circumstances. However, she finds an ally in Murphy, who is still mourning her baby’s crib death, which motivates her to go above and beyond protecting Nori, despite the stern warnings of her ex-husband boss.
It is a bit surprising Sleight’s J.D. Dillard is credited as a screenwriter on Stray, because there is a lot of flab in this script. If you like scenes of people standing around talking, then brother, Sill has a movie for you. Yet, perversely, they never really establish the nature of the super-powers in question. That might be understandable if Stray were a two-part series premiere, which is really what it feels like, but not so satisfying in a stand-alone feature. It is also left a little vague as to why the relentless bad guy has it in for Nori’s family, beyond claims that her mother and grandma were mean to him (honestly, that is about how they position it).
Probably most problematically, the mystery antagonist spends the better part of the film concealed by a motorcycle helmet. That is not just a boring style choice. It is absolutely baffling considering how much of the film’s publicity campaign is designed to capitalize on the casting of J-pop star Miyavi as the ominous Jin.
All of that is rather a shame, because Karen Fukuhara (Katana in Suicide Squad) is quite engaging and poignant as Nori. She also develops some compelling chemistry with Christine Woods, who as Murphy, develops some decent chemistry with Ross Partridge, her supervisor-ex.
It is easy to imagine what everyone must have hoped Stray could be. It just isn’t. The trio of Fukuhara, Woods, and Partridge form a solid core group, but the rest of the elements never come together, leaving all kinds of loose ends and rough patches. Likely to disappoint most genre fans, Stray opens tomorrow (3/1) in New York, at the Village East.