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
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.