A question for anyone who’s seen this right off the bat – is Cheap Thrills a dark comedy, or a light horror? It can’t be both. It doesn’t have the faintest idea what it wants to be. So it decides to be both, I guess, and let the viewer decide. The poster suggests riotous, cheeky comedy.
When the film starts, its tone is blatantly clear; this won’t go well tonight for young new father Craig (Pat Healy) in what is undoubtedly the year’s biggest F.U. to any character – he’s served an eviction notice, goes to work and is laid off, and goes to drown his sorrows in a bar – only to meet a former high school acquaintance who’s much easier to handle when on mute. Poor sod.
Vince is his ne’er-do-well friend played by Ethan Embry, and they drink… and when Craig returns from the bathroom, Vince has cozied up to a couple named Colin and Violet. Colin is played by the go-to guy who’s name we can never remember but we always see in staple big budget comedies; David Koechner. Here, he’s the star of the show – his young trophy wife clearly with him because of his money; and, boy, does Colin wave it around. He dares the two youngster to down tequila and pinch a girl’s behind…
… and they end up back at his place, where the game really begin. Vince and Craig really need the money, and the wealthy sadist Colin dares them to do a number of ‘thing’s, which I won’t spoil, whilst simultaneously raising the amount. So, it’s one of those high concept comedies or horrors.
Why then doesn’t it work? On paper, scripted as it is by David Chirchirillo and Troma’s own Trent Haaga must have read better than it plays. The film is set to slow-burn for approximately two thirds of its running time, and it all heads toward a tedious inevitability. I think the problem here is with relative newcomer E.L. Katz; tonally, the film is all off. It’s like the opening of Scream – in a manner of speaking – pulled out to 88 minutes. Rarely has a film felt twice as long as its own running time.
Okay, there are one or two reasonably satisfying set pieces involving – nope, not saying. Why? Well, if I do say what they are, then I’ll have ruined what limited fun there is to have.
The whole subtext about Craig needing to do this shit for the money, and Vince wanting the money is not exploited well enough until it’s far too late. Anyone who’s seen – let alone grew up on – concept cheap-o-ramas such as drivel like this will guess what one of the dares is before they’ve even left the bar. Especially if you’ve seen The Man From Hollywood. The ending is especially slack, with little-to-no motive (the furthest of the film’s troubles) for the lead character to do what he does, through to the daft reconnaissance that closes the picture down when the big titles flash at the end.
The main issue I have with the movie is that it simply doesn’t have the courage of its convictions. It doesn’t go TOO far enough. The BBFC have, according to the press notes, slapped this with a ‘15’ certificate for its May release. Fuck that. A film of this nature should be going apeshit bonkers, along the lines of Brian Yuzna’s Society or even Danny DeVito’s War of the Roses. If it were me, I’d have raised the bar higher a lot quicker, and the end would have been… too outrageous for print in a respectable website.
Cheap Thrills; perhaps the clue is in the title. Cheap? Certainly – this four hander seems to have been shot in the producer’s rich grandparent’s LA Canyon home. Thrills? Eh, not so much.
Author: Andrew Mackay