What would you do for $100? And what about if your friend was competing for the cash? That’s the core of Cheap Thrills, with recently fired Craig (Pat Healy) and old schoolmate Vince (Ethan Embry) getting sucked into the increasingly elaborate bets made by bored rich couple Colin and Violet (David Koechner and Sara Paxton).
David Koechner was apparently interested in the film as a way to move away from association with comedy, but in reality this is not much darker than his role in Final Destination 5. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case as while he is the centre of much of the humour in Cheap Thrills, it provides a welcome offset from the uncomfortability that comes from scenarios that have a disturbing ring of authenticity – that sense that this could happen, and probably already has!
With that sense of reality, the performances have to be up to the task, and the cast are uniformly excellent. Sara Paxton was great in 2011’s The Innkeepers and shows quality here in a totally different kind of role, and it’s difficult to see how anyone other than Koechner could balance manipulation, creepiness and affability in the same way.
Despite all that, I did find myself pulled right out of the film when it took a sexual turn that didn’t feel consistent with the characters as drawn to that point – granted it was predominantly a setup for one of the funniest scenes but was kind of jarring considering the believability to that point.
Overall, Cheap Thrills is successful in generating cringing for the right reasons. It’s well worth checking out, but you may find that its nature doesn’t inspire repeat watching. And who knows, maybe someday David Koechner will manage to shake the comic typecasting! ***1/2