Some film titles approach you as if they were dares. E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills seems to say: “We sell tackiness. Come and get it. We know you want it. This is what cinema, under the fancy dressing, is really all about.” Then another figure steps in – Irony (clothed in a dignified Greek robe) – and says: “Oh, but what we’re really doing is antic veneer. It’s postmodern thrills and spills.”
Ben Kill List Wheatley; the Coens; you get the idea. This story idea, stirring stereotypes before enriching them, could almost be written in acronym. Pat Healy plays the jobless, debt-burdened family man – MDN (Man in Desperate Need) – who accidentally meets a BIFF (Bad Influence Former Friend). They both end up in the home of the NFRS (Nutty as a Fruitcake Rich Stranger), where they compete for high-roll payouts. These result from the host’s cheap-thrill wagers. Will his two guests dare the un-dareable? Enact the unimaginable? . . .
The film would be nasty if it weren’t clever (and sometimes horribly funny). Healy excels as the plain man driven potty by need. The beady-eyed, shiny-cheeked David Koechner, a veteran of seedy huckster cameos, wears that insignium of the unhinged in the heraldry of the American thriller, the pork pie hat. See De Niro in Mean Streets and Gene “Popeye Doyle” Hackman in The French Connection.