Review: ‘Cheap Thrills’ is a semi-realistic dark class satire

Pat Healy (with Ethan Embry, David Koechner and Sara Paxton) performs escalating games in "Cheap Thrills." Credit: Drafthouse Films
Pat Healy (with Ethan Embry, David Koechner and Sara Paxton) performs escalating games in “Cheap Thrills.”
Credit: Drafthouse Films

‘Cheap Thrills’
Director: E.L. Katz
Stars: Pat Healy, David Koechner
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

Tone is everything. From the premise of “Cheap Thrills,” one might expect a broad, dark comedy with satirical overtones. David Koechner — best known for oblivious, knee-slapping bro’s bros in “Anchorman” and on “The Office” — plays Colin, a wealthy stranger who lures two losers into an ever-escalating game of dares. For each one he offers a tantalizing sum; the more extreme taunts claim top dollar.

His targets are Craig (Pat Healy), a nice guy with a family who’s nonetheless facing eviction and has just lost his job; and Vince (Ethan Embry), a tattooed wastrel Craig knew in high school. The two meet at a dive bar, where they meet Colin and his passive, almost doped-up-seeming wife Violet (Sara Paxton). At first Colin asks them to get slapped by a barfly. Then he asks Craig to punch a fearsome bouncer. Then it’s back to their place, where things quickly get skeezier.

This isn’t, despite the presence of actors known for being funny — especially Healy, most recognizable as the mordant-pathetic clerk (opposite Paxton) in “The Innkeepers” and his casually creepy prank caller in “Compliance” — simply a black comedy. It doesn’t even have jokes. The dares themselves are funny in concept, but the comedy elements don’t try too hard to be funny. It actually takes this, to a degree, seriously.

Director E.L. Katz gives the film a naturalism not expected from the goofy advertising campaign. This could have been designed as a revved-up demo reel, but Katz mostly plays it straight, allowing the comedy to come out naturally, and easing the audience into its occasional forays into genuine darkness. The actors too don’t feel like caricatures. All four are excellent, especially Koechner, who resists playing his monster as a broad menace, even suggesting moments of decency and weakness that make his actions all the more skin-crawling.

Frankly it goes too far at least twice. It’s clear the screenwriters hit walls and needed easy way outs, but even played semi-realistic the moments feel unearned, cheap. Still, it’s mostly a smooth success, not overplaying the class satire and becoming funnier and intimidating because of it, even when it simply can’t figure out a way to end.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Accused Boston bomber’s sister faces judge over bomb…

The sister of the alleged Boston Marathon bomber faced a judge in New York Tuesday on charges that she told her husband's ex-girlfriend she could "put a bomb where you…

National

Actor Tracy Morgan wasn't wearing seatbelt in June…

By Jonathan Stempel(Reuters) - Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan and others in his limousine were not wearing seat belts when their vehicle was struck by…

National

Connected cars: Is AT&T leaving Verizon in its…

By Marina Lopes and Bernie WoodallWASHINGTON/DETROIT (Reuters) - Verizon Communications, the No.1 U.S. wireless carrier known for its widespread coverage, is falling behind its biggest…

Local

Grand jury begins hearing evidence in Eric Garner…

A grand jury began hearing evidence Monday relating to the death of Eric Garner while in police custody in July. Garner, 43, of Staten Island,…

Arts

Artist Laurent La Gamba uses cars to create…

An artist managed to make his friends and family ‘disappear’ – by blending them in with their surroundings using paint.

The Word

The Word: Amanda Bynes returns to form

You know who we haven't heard from in a while? Amanda Bynes. Well, that dry spell is over because Bynes is back! Her parents' conservatorship…

Going Out

Taste what Lower Manhattan is cooking at today's…

The Lower Manhattan food scene has changed a lot in three years, which you can taste first hand when the neighborhood's food festival returns. On…

Television

Review: 'Selfie' tries to coast on the charm…

"Selfie" offers cute leads and some good jokes, but focuses too much on a vague distaste for social media.

NFL

Ryan Quigley making a big impact for Jets…

Ryan Quigley, now in his second year as the Jets punter, had an exceptional afternoon with six punts for an average of 51.7 yards per punt.

NFL

3 positives to take from Jets loss to…

The Jets suffered another loss Sunday — 24-17 to the Lions — but the reason why it hurts so much for Jets fans is that…

MLB

Joe Girardi not confident David Robertson will return…

David Robertson was as seamless as anyone could be replacing Mariano Rivera as he converted 39 saves, with a 3.08 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony preaches patience with new coach, offense

While star forward Carmelo Anthony said he’s “enthusiastic” and “optimistic” for the upcoming season, he still wants everyone — from within the locker room and…

Travel

Top celebrity wedding spots from Cheapflights.com

Cheapflights.com picks the best places around the world to tie the knot like George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin. As George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin wed…

Education

How to ace your private school interview

Getting ready for a private school interview can be daunting for many, most of whom might never have been in an interview situation before. We’ve…

Education

5 questions parents should ask while visiting private…

It can be hard to know what to look for when searching for a new school for your child. Parents considering several different schools can…

Education

3 ways to save money on college application…

With the average high school student applying to 5 or 6 schools, hefty application and test score fees can add up quickly. We’ve compiled some…