Release: Friday, March 21, 2014 (limited)
Written by: David Chirchirillo; Trent Haaga
Directed by: E.L. Katz
There are some things money can’t buy. As Cheap Thrills goes to show, confidence, self-respect, and social acceptance apparently aren’t among those things.
Here is a movie that invites the viewer to bare witness to something of a moral dilemma: watching a man caught between dragging his family through financial ruin and an opportunity to make money (lots of it) by physically, psychologically and emotionally ruining himself. While not a concept many of us haven’t pondered at some point — what kinds of things would I do for a quick buck? — it is one that is taken to some disturbing extremes. It’s also confidently and curiously handled by director E.L. Katz in his directorial debut.
Story tells of desperate family man Craig Daniels (Pat Healy) who wakes up one morning to find an eviction notice on his apartment door; to discover the garage he works at is now doing some convenient “downsizing;” to come to the realization he has no realistic way of solving either issue. When he meets an old friend at a dive bar he is reluctantly swept up in what begins as an innocent game of dare. . .or. . .dare. He and Vince (Ethan Embry) happen to encounter an absurdly wealthy married couple who are seemingly willing to make a game out of anything for their fleeting amusement.
This is where it gets really interesting. The couple is played by none other than
Anchorman‘s very own Champ Kind David Koechner and Sara Paxton (who previously starred alongside Healy in Ti West’s modestly successful The Innkeepers) and is a complete send-up of those possessing wealth . . . or at least how those of a lesser class often view them, as Ben Franklin-frittering fools; as socially-superior success stories. Why it happens to be the vulnerable Craig and Vince that this elite couple picks (preys upon?) serves to illustrate a lottery-esque dynamic between the have’s and have-not’s. Sure, there’s a lot of randomness (not to mention shit luck) involved in the equation, but a great deal of the reason we end up where we end up in life is based upon our choices as well as the decisions to ignore other choices.
Koechner’s Colin is the elephant in the room, as it’s not often you see the man take on something that’s more clear-cut as a dramatic role. He is simultaneously darkly comedic, brutal and enigmatic. He charms while repulsing just as quickly; and Paxton as the smoking hot wife (are there any other kind in movies?) is another kind of disturbing. Yet she, too, holds the screen very well despite being utterly despicable.
As Craig, Healy comes across as more than slightly creepy — those glasses ain’t doing ya any favors, pal — but we are able to empathize from the get-go as he’s surrounded by walls that diminish his oh-so-slightly disconcerting appearance. Embry’s is perhaps the character least fleshed-out and he suffers from minor underdevelopment. But the foursome undoubtedly have solid, if kinky, chemistry and as things escalate they become more and more a party you are likely to want to have less and less to do with.
That is, of course, unless you are sinking to some new lows for attention. For cheap thrills. For to get out of a rut. Your scale of what is and isn’t acceptable as acts performed for money is likely to differ from those of the men on display here. That’s good. That’s how it should be! The real fun starts with delineating what exactly separates these trajectories from normal, acceptable human responses to big stacks of cash.
So, settle a bet. How far would you be willing to go for $4,500? For $15,000? For a quarter-million?
Recommendation: No doubt about it, one might need a little bit of a dark sense of humor to fully appreciate the goings-on within this extremely modestly-budgeted and rather poorly-marketed production. (This movie came out this year, but who has really heard of it, other than — yes — those with a cynical view of human nature?) For a movie that shows signs of becoming cliché entirely too quickly, it is remarkable how much it picks itself up and heads in a direction that’s neither predictable nor unsatisfying. Cheap Thrills is a thrill that’s rich in entertainment value.
Rated: R (for risqué)
Running Time: 88 mins.
Quoted: “Whichever one of you fellas does this shot first, gets $50. Boom.”
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