This ambitious opioid money game ODs on cliches and weak script.
A decade ago, we got “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which knew how to swindle people of their money, so Jordan Belfort can use it for drugs, sex, and parties. And we’ve had many other inspired movies to reach that level, like “Hustlers,” “Sharper,” “Dumb Money,” and “I Care a Lot,” while others like “Queenpins” or “Body Brokers” were weak. “Pain Hustlers” is another mediocre attempt, but is more inspired by the opioid crisis. You have leads like Emily Blunt and Chris Evans, and you have the money game in different territories, but you don’t have the screenplay and risks to gamble against “The Wolf of Wall Street.” In fact, you end up ODing, and John Travolta isn’t here to inject the adrenaline in you.
Set in Central Florida, Blunt plays a struggling stripper single mom named Liza Drake, who has a troubled, epilepsy-stricken teenage daughter Phoebe (Chloe Coleman). Because she gets fired and because her kid nearly gets herself expelled from school for starting a fire in the woods close by, they’re forced to move in a shabby motel with loud music playing at night.
Her only recourse is to work in a bankrupt pharmaceutical company that is struggling to sell a fictionalized opioid called “Lonafen” to doctors. Evans plays her new boss Pete Brenner, while Andy Garcia plays the genius Dr. Jack Neel, and they’re all desperate to send the company through the roof. Soon, when Liza scores a deal with a strip mall doctor (Brian D’Arcy Jones), the drug finally makes the company successful.
That means Liza and Pete both get promoted, that means she thinks she can hire her mom (Catherine O’Hara) without any consequences, that means her daughter can get into a good school, that means everyone can party, and that means laws have to be broken. The drug causes people to overdose, which sets things in a downward spiral.
Now, Liza feels guilty enough to turn against her company.
“Pain Hustlers” was directed by David Yates, whose last non-Harry Potter entry was “The Legend of Tarzan,” which wasn’t that good to begin with. This one is not much of an improvement, although Blunt’s performance tries to carry the movie. She’s a lousy mom who doesn’t discipline her kid for setting off a fire, and then transcends into a hot shot who eventually tells off her mother for her lousy parenting. Like mother, like daughter. She does a good job adjusting to the role, but the screenplay by Wells Tower never adjusts her for the typical cliches. Some of them are, at least, more vulnerable than others.
The supporting cast is wasted, as Evans and Garcia overact and never distinguish themselves from previous performances of this particular genre. You know. The money game when people make it big, until it all comes crashing down. It’s based on Evan Hughes’ book from last year, and I feel it’s rushed. Movies of this genre take years to find the right screenplays and performances. I really enjoy these money games, because they take risks and test our minds about how greed and corruption result in people getting hurt and the ones responsible getting arrested.
This movie about pain killers is a real pain in the ass.
Streaming on Netflix
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA strike.