Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Cheap Thrills
Cheap Thrills came out in theaters and on Video on Demand in March and it did well during its opening weekend, but its legs were really short. Normally this would suggest poor word-of-mouth, but the reviews were excellent. Then again, it is a black comedy, which is a hard genre to market. Now that it is out on the home market, will it perform better?
The film begins and right away we meet Craig. He and his wife and their infant son. They seems to have happy lives, but they are dealing with money trouble. His wife reminds Craig to ask his boss for a raise and they really need it. There's an eviction notice on their front door. While working as a mechanic, the boss calls him in. Business is slow and they need to let some people go, so Craig's fired.
Not wanting to go home, Craig heads to a local bar to drink. There he runs into Vince, an old high school friend. They get talking and Craig asks him about his job and if it is violent. (Vince is a debt collector, and not the legitimate kind). Vince figures out something is wrong at this point and Craig tells him about the eviction notice and being fired. It's worse than we know. If Craig doesn't get $4,500 dollars in just a few days, he and his family will be homeless.
Craig heads to the bathroom and sees some guy doing cocaine. He also sees he left the money he used as a makeshift straw... in the toilet. When he gets back to the bar, he sees Vince with a couple of people. There's Colin, the man he saw snorting cocaine, and Violet, the woman Vince unsuccessfully hit on before running into Craig. They are celebrating Violet's birthday. Colin buys a $300 bottle of Tequila and gives the bartender a $100 tip.
After taking some pictures, Colin mentions a bet he and Violet have. There's a patron at the bar who keeps checking out the bartender. Every time he checks our her ass, Violet wins $100. Every time time he checks our her boobs, Colin wins $100. He then offers $50 to Craig or Vince, whoever drinks a shot of tequila first. When Vince wins, but offers to give the money to Craig, Colin gets a little upset. It is only fun if you play by the rules. After a few more bets, the quartet heads to a strip club where Colin offers $200 to whoever slaps one of the stripper's ass. They get chased out of the strip club but when Craig is confronted by a bouncer, Colin offers him $500 if he hits him first. He does...
When he regains consciousness, Craig finds himself in Colin and Violet's mansion and Vince is there as well. First Colin praises Craig for taking the first shot, but when Craig wants to go home. Colin offers to get him some painkillers while Violet cleans up Craig and tells him a story about the time she saw a kid get hit by a SUV. It's the first time she's said more than three words all evening. What happens next is a bit of a spoiler. Colin takes Craig and Vince out on his balcony, and tells them about his other properties. It takes a couple of seconds, but Craig realizes Vince is peeing on his shoes. This is important, because it is the first time one of the bets turns the two friends against each other. While Craig is cleaning up in the bathroom, Vince comes in and tells him he's going to rob Colin and Violet. They have a safe with more than $200,000 in it and that would certainly solve their money problems.
Craig goes along with Vince's pan, but that falls apart when they learn Colin is a martial arts expert and easily takes down Vince. However, he's not going call the cops. Instead, he admits he and Violet haven't been entirely truthful with them. The $250,000 is there for them, if they are willing to participate in a series of Reality TV like dares. As long as they do what Colin and Violet tell them to do, they will keep getting the money. Plus they can leave any time they want.
This is where we definitely run into spoiler territory.
I'm of two minds about Cheap Thrills. On the one hand, it is a really well made movie with great writing and the acting is just as strong. Pat Healy is great; we get to see what he is trying to hold onto and how desperate the situation is and why he stuck around when he really shouldn't have. Ethan Embry's character isn't as sympathetic (he's much more willing to push boundaries, for instance) but you still feel for the guy. David Koechner usually plays comedic roles and certainly generates some laughs here. He comes across as a big goofy guy who just wants to have fun, so when the dares he gives take a darker turn, it is even more unsettling. Sara Paxton has the least to do, by a large margin. For most of the movie, Violet does little more than play with her phone looking bored. Even when Vince and Craig try to rob them and Craig grabs her from behind, she just looks bored. However, when given a chance, Sara Paxton delivers.
On the downside, I've seen 13: Game of Death and this movie could be viewed as a remake of that film, right down to the surprise ending. Fortunately for this film, practically no one in North America saw 13: Game of Death or its official remake, 13 Sins, so this will feel fresher to most audiences. The dares do escalate, but in a believable way. Some might think the dares go too far and the film wanders into Torture Porn territory, but I disagree. That's not to say all of the dares are easy to watch, but Torture Porn this is not.
Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track with the director, E.L. Katz, as well as the lead, Pat Healy. There is also a 40-minute making of featurette, which is very in-depth and features interviews with the cast and much of the crew. Finally there is a six-minute look at the film at Fantastic Fest 2013.
I don't have the Blu-ray to compare. However, it costs $21, which is $4 or 25% more than the DVD and that's a good price.
Cheap Thrills is a dark comedy that earned 88% positive reviews. Fans of the genre should certainly be interested in the movie and the extras on the DVD and Blu-ray are better than expected, so it is worth picking up.
- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Date posted: 2014-06-14