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Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Cheap Thrills

What Would You Do For $200? What Would You Do For More Than That?

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: March 21, 2014 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Thriller, Dark Comedy
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: E.L. Katz
Writers: David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga
Cast: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton, 
David Koechner, Amanda Fuller

"Cheap Thrills" is disturbing, depraved, deplorable, dehumanizing, and devilishly delicious. At times, it literally made me sick to my stomach – but it also made me think.

Craig (Pat Healy, remiscient of a younger Robin Williams) is a former writer who settles for work as an auto mechanic when nothing else pans out. An eviction notice threatens to put him, his wife (played by Amanda Fuller), and his 16-month-old baby out on the street. Then he loses his job.

While drowning his sorrows at a nearby bar, he runs into an old friend he hasn't seen in five years, Vince (an unrecognizable Ethan Embry). They attract the attention of a wealthy but twisted couple, Colin (the always fantastic David Koechner) and Violet (Sarah Paxton), who propose a seemingly simple offer: the first person to take a drink gets $50, "boom!" Vince wins that bet before Craig even realizes what's been said. Next on the agenda: throw a dart into the center of the board ($50 again), get slapped by a woman ($200), and slap a stripper on the ass (another $200).

It escalates from there.

To reveal anything more would be almost as criminal as what happens next in this bizarre black comedy that's 90% black and maybe 10% comedy.

All I'll say is that this is exactly the kind of movie you'll want to rush to tell all your friends and co-workers about on a Monday morning: "Did you see this?" and "Wait 'til you hear about the crazy shit I watched over the weekend."

Yes, as the title implies, "Cheap Thrills" is a novelty. It relies on shock value. But it's more than just a gimmick. The acting is superb and the scenario is thought-provoking.

Pat Healy and Ethan Embry do a fantastic job of transitioning from disbelief to desperation as the "game" progresses. Sara Paxton's character is more of a blank slate. She's either drunk and drugged out of her mind or entirely devoid of a conscience – maybe both. But David Koechner is the biggest surprise. Usually cast as goofy comic relief, he relishes his darker role here as the wretched ringmaster behind it all.

Just how far are desperate people willing to go for financial freedom in desperate economic times? That question is answered somewhat satirically in the film – in a way that's more than somewhat sickening – but it's a valid issue to explore. I don't know that I walked away from this bizarre blend of horror and humor with any greater insight, or if I was supposed to at all – but I certainly won't be forgetting what I saw for a long time to come.

I'm not sure how much replay value "Cheap Thrills" has – once probably really is enough – but it's well worth that first (and likely last) watch.

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