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Cheap Thrills



3026439-inline-inline-ct-characters-davidReleased: 6th June 2014

Directed By: E.L. Katz

Starring: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry

Certificate: 15

Reviewed By: Robbie Cooper (

Craig (Pat Healy) is drowning his financial sorrows at a Los Angeles dive bar when he runs into old high school friend Vince (Ethan Embry) who he hasn’t seen in five years. The two of them meet Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton) who are celebrating Violet’s birthday. Craig and Vince end up performing various antics for the couple for quick cash in an effort to get out of their desperate financial state.

Back in my bar-hopping days, my friends and I would play a hypothetical game with each other. It was never an official game that would be scheduled for any reason, nor did we ever really give it an official name. It was very loosely called the whats your price game. Someone in the group would provide a shocking activity, something like losing a limb or losing an eye and the conversation would circulate between the group to see what everyone’s price was to perform said action. It would generate some short-term provocative discussion, but would never result in anything physically. Years later comes along this film Cheap Thrills, which is probably the closest thing to the whats your price game in film form.

Two surprising elements in this film from the get-go are the casting decisions. You see Ethan Embry in the credits, yet it probably takes you a few minutes to actually realize WHO he is in the film. He’s no longer the baby-faced twenty-something from Empire Records. He really looks like he’s put some years on that face. He’s now the middle-aged slob with the cheap beanie and two-week beard. Then you have David Koechner, who would traditionally be cast in an Adam McKay-led comedy. He has dipped his toes in similarly less-comedic waters (Final Destination 5, Piranha), but this is certainly a different flavor. There’s comedy present, but oh boy it’s dark. His Colin character is by no means a strictly serious personality, and Koechner’s typical persona certainly comes through and really works here. The Colin character is a rich sadist throwing dollar bills at each deplorable stunt. The smug, made-up Violet sits by his side immobile like a mannequin. The deplorable acts get progressively worse as the stakes are raised. Nobody is watching the clock more than Craig, who has a worried wife at home with his baby. Craig figures that the next action will be his last, and then he can finally leave the madhouse that he has been spending the last few hours in, this madhouse that at times reminds you of the firecracker-popping crack-den in Boogie Nights. All that’s missing is the Rick Springfield anthem playing in the background, instead here it’s some biting Dubstep. And you only spent about twenty minutes in Rahad’s den in Boogie Nights. Here, you are not going anywhere that quickly. You probably want to, but there’s that next stunt. That next payout. For Craig, that next payout will help him and his family get out of the rut. He will no longer be an embarrassment. For Vince, it’s a new beginning. A chance to start over. Who knows, maybe get on the right path so that he can have a wife and kid too. Each passing moment brings along another morally-compromising idea coupled with more diminishing intoxication. The two men may have been old friends but their loyalty is tested, then tested again, and again.

It’s a disturbing, drug-induced game show. Almost like the suspenseful offspring of an Irreversible and Compliance (which also featured Pat Healy). A showcase of clouded judgement. Blind faith in absolute strangers. Diametric character unraveling. A downward spiral. Stretched limits. Two different life paths colliding, coming together for one night where the two forces are after the same thing. Brutal. Barbarous. As things continue to go deeper, you sit there wondering how it will end. How CAN it end? You should be compensated for getting through the film not because it’s poorly made (it’s not) but because it’s challenges you in a way most films don’t, or can’t. At least not within the rating confines of the MPAA. Perhaps it’s why Cheap Thrills unrated. Maybe it’s better that way. A watered down version of this picture would have fallen into a different category, probably artless gore-porn. Cheap Thrills also deserves credit for it’s clever tagline: “What doesn’t kill you makes you richer”.

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