The actors play “Cheap Thrills” straight, but you should watch it as a twisted comedy. Those who do will be rewarded, especially by the film’s outlandish final image.
Craig (Pat Healy) is in the midst of a bad day, having been fired and received an eviction notice hours apart, and he’s wondering how he will support his wife and newborn son. In a bar, he encounters an old friend, Vince (Ethan Embry), and the two of them fall in with a couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) with odd tastes and an apparently limitless amount of money.
The couple issue one dare after another to the two friends — punch a bouncer; spank a stripper — and pay off in wads of cash, the amounts increasing with the riskiness or distastefulness of the dare. Soon the lure of money has turned Craig and Vince against each other as they vie for the cash, and the dares become darker and bloodier.
Koechner is terrific as the main instigator, and Healy does a pretty good job of transforming from wimpy family man to cutthroat competitor. E.L. Katz, the director, making his feature debut, has the courage to have everyone play it completely seriously.
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This is dark comedy indeed, and if viewed as such, it works deliciously. And hey, if you like, you can consider it some kind of allegory for a society in which the rich are very rich, and the poor are mere playthings.