Thursday, August 11, 2016

Cheap Thrills

I guess you can say I’m a Netflix cheerleader, always mentioning how I get the discs mailed to me every month and the enjoyment I get when I find a good film to watch on their streaming service.  The day I’d discovered this DVD mailing service—jeez, it must’ve been 18 or 19 years ago—I knew it’d be a hit and that the company would grow indefinitely.  Well, I was right on both counts, but I had never known at what rate, and to what extent, the conglomerate would grow.  If I’d really and truly knew, I probably would’ve invested in Netflix stock, enjoying my riches right now.  But, no...I’m a blue-collar worker, taking enjoyment out of writing about films I’ve seen and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So…once again, I found myself itching for some entertainment—something horrific, dramatic, action-packed, or funny—as I found myself plopped on the couch and sifting through the streaming menu.  One such film that had been on the trending portion of the menu (the titles that members had been watching or rating a lot) and saw the title, Cheap Thrills, float by with a rating of over three stars.  But…I thought it was a straight comedy and really didn’t feel like clicking on it at that point in time.  One of the reasons why I thought it had been a comedy was that the title cover featured the main cast, all looking at the camera and smiling, even though one of them had a very bloody nose (take a look at the movie poster and you’ll see what I mean).  Another reason I had thought this was a straight comedy was the inclusion of David Koechner in the cast—which turned into a motive on why I decided to watch it.  Even after reading the synopsis, I still had trouble pulling the trigger on this one, just due to that happy-go-lucky movie poster.

Well, I finally clicked on the play button just the other day and became instantly absorbed by this one.  So, let me break down the plot for you before we discuss…

A scheming couple—Colin and Violet (David Koechner and Sara Paxton)—put Craig (Pat Healy), a struggling family man and his old friend, Vince (Ethan Embry), through a series of increasingly twisted dares, paying the friends excessive amounts of money if accomplished,  The tasks go on over the course of an evening at a local bar—and ending up at the couple’s home—with the challenges becoming very precarious.

At the commencement of this film, I have to admit that I had my doubts, especially when we see the main character losing his job and becoming very depressed, finding himself at a bar and having a beer.  Now I’ve never understood the concept of heading to a bar after work to drink and unwind, feeling it’d be awkward to sit down in the company of strangers and becoming inebriated.  The way I’ve always unwound after work was to go home and watch a ballgame or a movie…maybe I don’t understand the going-to-a-bar philosophy because I don’t drink.  But that was my dilemma as I was going through this introduction of our main character, Craig, until his old friend, Vince, walked in.  At that point, I’d really grew engrossed in this film.

I don’t mean to sound callous, but, man, has Ethan Embry aged!  The first time I’d seen him in anything was the coming-of-age teenage movie, Can’t Hardly Wait (don’t judge me), back in 1998.  At 20 years old, he played the part of a high schooler and it worked.  Now, at 38, he definitely can play the older man, seeming like he partied a bit since that 1998 film.  As a matter of fact, he was recently in a commercial with Christie Brinkley, playing her husband as they were driving in a vehicle for an SUV advertisement.  It was a play on the Vacation movies, since they were playing the theme song from the first film and the reason why, I’m guessing, that they were in this commercial together was that Brinkley was in the first film and Embry was in Vegas Vacation, playing the part of Rusty.  Point of all this?  Even though she’s 24 years Embry’s senior, you can’t tell, as they seem like the same age and believable as a married couple.

Well, that went off the rails pretty quickly, didn’t it?  Anyway…back to Cheap Thrills

When Vince walks in and sees Craig, sitting with him and catching up on old times, that’s when the movie really gets going and changes gears.  We get perfect character development between these two old friends and it works because these two actors have great chemistry, making you believe they’re truly good friends.  Yet, they have a yin-yang type of relationship once they’ve met Colin and Violet—Craig not wanting to take part in a lot of the dares, while Vince is ready to do anything to get his hands on some easy money.  At first, Craig is the levelheaded friend between them with Vince vigorously egging him on to perform some of the tasks, but as they become more and more violent, both Craig and Vince change their personas dramatically.  It’s a true look at how money can change people.

Cheap Thrills is by no means a perfect movie, as it needs the audience to accept something that drives this story and that’s the character of Colin and his motivation, which seems to be just to have some merciless fun as he takes advantage of the destitute character of Craig.  Also, it’d be hard to believe that someone that has the means to so much money would easily throw it around, taking a chance that the victim he chooses won’t just give up and take the money he’d achieved so far, not choosing to go for more provocations.  If you can set that aside, which is easy to do because your thought process will be working to figure out what Colin’s angle is throughout this whole ordeal, you can appreciate this fun movie.

2013’s Cheap Thrills is E.L. Katz’s directorial debut, only followed up by ABCs of Death 2 and one episode of ‘Scream: The TV Series.”  He’s got a film coming out in 2017 called Small Crimes, and has been a writer on quite a few productions.  However, this story was penned by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga, an obvious writing team, who have collaborated on a few projects, but this stands out above the rest. 

You know, I’d mentioned Ethan Embry a bit (though maybe not in such a good light), but I really hadn’t gone into Pat Healy’s history in cinema.  Though I didn’t recognize him while watching this film, I still didn’t really know who he was even after reading through his bio.  But the man has been in the business for quite some time with 90-plus productions he’s acted in, from popular television series to a number of films.  Healy was exceptional in Cheap Thrills and I’d enjoyed his performance as the everyman who usually doesn’t get a break, yet finally fights to get one in this story.

Although Sara Paxton was sort of wasted in this film with nothing much to do, David Koechner was surprisingly amazing in this flick.  Usually he plays a funny—yet dumb—throwaway character.  Here?  He’s a likable, but ruthless, individual.  It’s actually weird to see him play someone serious when all you know him as is Champ Kind from Anchorman.

So what’s my final “bit” on Cheap Thrills?

I dug it, man!  From the moment Embry and Healy interact in the bar, I was stuck on this movie and felt the need to see it all the way through.  The further you get in the story, the more you want to stay to see how it’ll end.  It’s strange at times (especially Koechner’s martial arts skills) and will have you guessing on what the outcome will be, and you may even go through a range of emotions as things play out.  But it’s fun to see how each challenge is dealt with by the two main characters and although the ending has a little something to be desired, the end results will stay with you for a while.  Highly recommended.

Thanks for reading!

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