Movie review: Cheap Thrills

They say that money can't buy happiness. This is usually said by those without much cash and who are just trying to kid themselves. But they fool no-one. If you had the choice would you rather listen to a football match on a radio (on FM, not even DAB), or watch it on a 46" OLED HD TV? We know which would make us happier.

But some people resort to strange things for money. Like sitting in a tub of baked beans; OK, that's usually for charity, but it's still kind of weird. For his feature length debut Director E.L. Katz explores what exactly a couple of guys down on their luck will do for some quick, cold cash in their hands, and there's not a tin of beans in sight.

Times are hard for Craig (Pat Healy), and they're about to get a lot harder. Leaving home for work, he finds a final notice pinned to his door. He's fallen behind with the rent, but he hopes his next pay check will cover it. It won't, because when he arrives at work, he's told that they'll have to let him go as they have to downsize.

In the street he bumps into a friend Vince (Ethan Embry), whom he hasn't seen in five years. They should catch up, Vince says. Sure, says Craig. What about now, asks Vince? Beers are on me, offers Vince! Craig accepts.

As they start chatting over said beers in a bar, the pair notice a curious couple who are happily throwing their money around. As the bar is relatively empty, they all get chatting. It transpires that Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton) are well and truly loaded. So much so that they are happily giving it away. But not quite for free. They enjoy a good dare and they manage to rope Craig and Vince in.

But what starts off as relatively harmless fun soon spirals out of control as both men are tested to the limits when it comes to what they would do for money. It turns out, pretty much anything.

There's something darkly absorbing about this film right from the off. If you're expecting some kind of moral dilemma played out, akin to Adrian Lyne's 1993 hit Indecent Proposal which saw Woody Harrelson pimping out Demi Moore to Robert Redford for a million dollars worth of rumpy pumpy, then you may be a tad disappointed.

Katz uses the 'what would you do for money?' element of the film and not only runs with it, but slams it incessantly in our faces, with each dare becoming that bit more daring, hardcore and, well, ridiculous than the last. So much so that it soon degenerates into mindless mayhem that gets that little bit more twisted with every turn.

With only four principle characters for the majority of the film, and only a couple of locations, it often has the feel of a staged play about it. This claustrophobia only adds to the tension of the piece. All four give a great account of themselves, particularly Koechner who is probably better known for more comedic roles, such as Todd Packer in the US version of The Office, and as Champ Kind in the Anchorman films; he still shows a lightness of touch, but is also happy to revel in a much darker side.

Despite the film's dalliances with the macabre, Katz doesn't take any of it seriously. He uses noir humour throughout that certainly helps take the edge off of things. Which is just as well, as the film is like a swatch with black being the lightest of the colours available.

It's by no means a flashy, high budget Hollywood affair, which is good news considering how much expensive mainstream dross flaunts itself as horror these days. Its thrills may well be on the cheap side, but they're oh-so satisfying.

4 booms

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