The Stroke is a 2017 dark comedy film directed by Phil Derrick and starring Robert De Niro, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifanakis, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges. The film follows the family of Vincent Martino (De Niro) after he dies from a stroke.
Derrick, who gained popularity with his independent film Work, wrote the initial script back in 2002, but felt that it needed to rest and he worked on it over the next few years. After gaining popularity, producer Aaron Trent backed Derrick's new project.
Vincent Martino ( Robert De Niro) is a 59 year old businessman who is divorced from his wife and has two children; Michael ( Paul Rudd), and his demanding brother Rutherford ( Zach Galifanakis), whose real name is Martin. At a work meeting Vincent announces his retirement, much to the ire of his younger brother Larry ( Kevin Spacey), who fears that with Vincent's absence he will loose his own job.
On the way home to his private apartment, Vincent calls his ex-wife and invites her to his retirement party. She agrees, and as he pulls into the carpark he begins to have a stroke. Floyd Felderman ( Jeff Bridges), his eccentric and bizarre. neighbour, witnesses Vincent's distress, but cannot help him as he is carrying art supplies. When Vincent dies from his stroke, Floyd fears for his own life, thinking the police might blame him, and takes Vincent's body from his car, trying to hide it.
The next day Vincent's sons visit his apartment after he had not answered his phone, and find it empty, with his car in the middle of the carpark, with the door open. Michael runs into Floyd, who is erratic and nervous, and asks him if he has seen Vincent. Floyd flees in terror, and Michael is baffled, though his brother explains that he understands Floyd as he is one of his "bizarro brethren". The two brothers leave Vincent's apartment, as Floyd returns to his own, where Vincent is lying in his lounge chair, dead.
Michael and "Rutherford" seek help from their uncle, Larry, who is trying to hold onto his job after Vincent's retirment (and death). Larry is dealing with other problems too, his wife Clara has left him because she caught him with seven prostitutes and wearing an Elma Fudd mask, much to his nephews' bewilderment. He confesses he has not seen Vincent either, and recommends that they visit the police. The three of them visit the police, and Larry finds himself in an awkward situation with an office who arrested him for cocaine abuse. Michael scolds his uncle, who defends himself, meanwhile Rutherford calmly talks to the police officer about the whole scenario.
As they are driving home, Michael, Rutherford, and Larry recollect their memories with Vincent. Michael remembers when his father dropped him off at law school, only to remember how the day was soiled by his brother's intrusion. Larry remembers how he and his brother had worked together all their lives, before recalling that Vincent always stole his girlfriends. Rutherford recalls how is father always ignored him as a child, and in doing so did not notice Rutherford's autism. The recollecting leaves the three of them bitter and upset, but they still contemplate on how they are going to uncover what happened to Vincent.
Meanwhile Floyd is still trying to deal with his problem, and tries to dispose of Vincent's body by hauling him off of the apartments roof. At the same time Michael and the others arrive at the apartments and go to investigate Vincent's apartment. In a bizarre and macabre scenario, Floyd accidentally gets a rope caught and it wraps around Vincent's neck, and he falls from the roof. He stops at the window into his apartment, and his family stare in bewilderment and shock, believing Vincent has just committed suicide. Floyd flees again frantically, shouting in Latin.
As Larry and Rutherford try and get Vincent's body off the side of the apartment, Michael calls his mother Christine and tells her what has happened. She is distraught, and asks that they have a funeral immediately. Floyd watches in terror as the paramedics remove Vincent's body from the apartments and runs into Michael, who asks him if he noticed if Vincent was depressed. Floyd freezes in nervousness, and baffles Michael by speaking in Latin. He flees back to his apartment and begins to fret, fearing that the police will find out about him. He calls his friend Eric Leath ( Jeffrey Tambor), and asks him for help. Leath says for Floyd to meet him at an alley at midnight, and calls him by his new name, "Frederico Gonzales". They meet, and Leath gives Floyd the necessary papers to make him a Mexican citizen. Floyd returns home and dies his hair black and puts in green contact lenses to further blend in, much to the chagrin of his Latino maid.
The Martinos prepare for Vincent's funeral, and Michael goes to his uncle's home to pick him up. He finds Larry smoking marijuana in his own "drug den", much to Michael's annoyance. He gathers his drugged uncle and takes him to the cemetery, where his family is waiting. Leath drives Frederico (Floyd) to the US-Mexican border to start his new life, but they are pulled over by the police, whereupon Leath shoots and kills the policeman. Floyd is astounded, berating his friend as the car flies through the border fence and lands in the Mexican side. Leath says goodbye in Spanish before kicking Floyd out of the car and speeding off, pursued by several police cars. Floyd is later arrested by American officials and escorted back to the city for questioning.
In the finale, the helicopter transporting Floyd flies over the cemetery where Vincent's funeral is undergoing, and a battle ensues between Floyd and the police. He leaps from the helicopter and the Martinos watch in awe as he lands on top of Vincent's coffin and sends his body flying out, landing in the audience. Michael tries to console his distraught mother, while Rutherford merely says "I love you dad". Floyd, still alive, begins to flee as the police converge on the cemetery. He is tackled by the police and taken away, as the Martinos try to restore the funeral. Instead of the distraught Michael speaking, his brother stands up, demands to be called Martin and gives a warming eulogy of Vincent, later declaring that he is autistic. The film ends as Floyd/Frederico is escorted away by the police, swearing in Latin.
- Robert De Niro as Vincent Martino: The titular character; a fifty-nine year old successful businessman who abruptly dies after announcing his retirement. De Niro was the first the join the film in 2006, after significant work from Derrick's producers and himself. He described his character as the "anchor of the movie, although he's dead for most of it".
- Paul Rudd as Michael Martino: Vincent's eldest son, he is a aspiring lawyer who could never get his way through law school due to always having to cover for his brother "Rutherford". Claud Marin was originally envisioned for the role of Michael, and he filmed with the cast, although he had to drop out in 2008. Derrick considered Rudd based off his roles in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Knocked Up. He was cast in early 2009, and described his character as "the most normal in a pretty unusual family".
- Zach Galifanakis as "Rutherford" Martin Martino: Vincent's second son and an eccentric, autistic, bizarre and socially awkward 30 year old who is a burden on his brother. In later development of the film, Derrick still had no actor to play Rutherford, but after seeing Galifanakis The Hangover he immediately cast Galifanakis.
- Kevin Spacey as Larry Martino: Vincent's brother, and his co-worker for their entire careers. He fears that with Vincent's retirement that he will loose his own job. Derrick, a fan of Spacey, had always wanted to work with the actor, and contacted his agent. Surprisingly, Spacey agreed to appear in the film, and came up with the "Elmda Fudd" idea.
- Jeff Bridges as Floyd Felderman/Frederico Gonzales: An eccentric artist who lives next door to Vincent and unwittingly tries to dispose of his body after witnessing his death. Derrick was a fan of Bridges, particularly in The Big Lebowski, and envisioned him for the role of Floyd Felderman. Derrick did not expect Bridges to respond to his script, but received the actor's approval and met with him between filming of Iron Man. Bridges described his role as Floyd as "probably the weiredest guy I've ever played".
- Jeffrey Tambor as Eric Leath: A former FBI agent who now offers people sanctuary by forging them fake Mexican identities. Derrick met with Tambor during filming of Hellboy II and wanted him for his "noncholant".
- Claud Marin as the Reverend: The priest at Vincent's funeral. Marin was originally going to play Michael, but had to drop out. He was later contacted for a cameo role.
The film received generally positive reviews, with particular praise to Bridges' performance. It has a 82% "certified fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 85 metascore at Metacritic. In his review for the Daily News, critic Mike Epperland said of The Stroke: "Despite having a star-studded cast, The Stroke never gets pompous, or Hollywood-ish; Derrick translates his indie sensibilites to a big cast for hilarious results. A dark, macabre and ultimately introspective comedy film". Robert Ebert gave the film three stars out of four and called it an "admirable", "funny" but "sometimes flawed" effort.
Peter Travers, critic for Rolling Stone magazine, was particularly praising of the film: "The Stroke is not entirely original in its premise, but De Niro (for his brief screen time) plays a great character for someone who for 95% of the film is dead. Rudd and Galifanakis play his unwitting sons, and Kevin Spacey is great as his nervous and alcoholic brother. To round out this cast is Jeff Bridges, playing one of his most obscure but ultimately hilarious roles as a bizarre artist who dumbly becomes involved in a supposed murder plot. The film is a clever examination of how one person's death can send a whole family into chaos".