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MOVIE REVIEW

'Stay' is neither thrilling nor psychological

The second the pleasureless psychological thriller ''Stay" was over I wanted to run out and buy everything in it. Everything except the writing, the directing, the acting, and that ingrown hair of a plot twist. But Ewan McGregor's tweed suit is fetching, and his big, outlandishly handsome Manhattan apartment is something to see.

But why go all the way to the movies for this, when the studio could have sent me a catalog instead? ''Stay" is neither thrilling nor psychological, but it's chicly shot and edited and is pretty much art-directed to death. Marc Forster, whose last movie was ''Finding Neverland," is the director, but I'd say the set designers and costume folks were in charge.

The movie lethally combines artists and shrinks, the oil and water of scriptwriting 101, in a plot from the screenwriting novelist David Benioff (''The 25th Hour," ''Troy"). McGregor plays Dr. Sam Foster, a psychiatrist treating a painter and suicidal college kid named Henry (Ryan Gosling).

His regular doctor has taken a sudden vacation. No wonder. Ryan is creepy. He hears voices. He extinguishes cigarettes on his forearm. He predicts the weather. And, as he tells Sam, he's going to shoot himself in three days. Sam has to get to the bottom of why and then stop him. The boy wants his demise to emulate that of his favorite dead artist (who also died at 21). Thank goodness Sam is dating a painter (Naomi Watts) who once tried to kill herself and is intimately familiar with this tragically dead other painter! Otherwise, how would he know what was going on? How would we? Oh, who cares? It's all trudging toward a bogus anticlimax, anyway.

''Stay" is a slummy movie from people with too much success to slum. They're condescending to us. The filmmakers labor to imagine characters caught between sleep and waking life. But any claim to that sort of otherworldly weirdness embarrasses more than it chills. All right -- Kate Burton (blank), Janeane Garafalo (drunk), and Bob Hoskins (blind) actually are creepy, though in a way that seems purely accidental.

''Stay" traffics in allusions meant to do the filmmakers' thinking for them. We drop in on an arid university lecture about death in painting and see rehearsals for a production of ''Hamlet," in which a black actor in response to a passage exclaims, ''I don't know what it means, but I love the word 'slave!' " He's probably joking, but only in a movie that knows it's the pits would that be funny. This one thinks its Hitchcock or David Lynch or an installation at the Whitney Biennial. That's the only believably crazy thing about the picture.

Not even the film's attempts at urban authenticity pay off. This is the rare movie actually filmed in New York that often feels like it was shot in Vancouver. It's too clean. Clinical psychology is one thing, but who wants a clinical psychological thriller?

Alas, the movie is too pretentious to bother leaving us in an erotic tizzy and is not made skillfully enough to deliver the suspense we require. Forster and company don't risk lewdness or even cheap entertainment. The movie drones on about art without even approaching decent trash. Actually, ''Stay" is obsessed with bad art and in a way that seems reflexive but is merely wishful. It's worse than bad. It's mediocre.

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