SELF RELIANCE (2024)
Release Date: 01/03/24 [Hulu]
Genre: Comedy. Thriller.
"Given the opportunity to participate in a life or death reality game show, one man discovers there's a lot to live for."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
Jake Johnson can boast an interesting career jumping from studio tentpoles to voiceovers to TV. In all these instances, Johnson plays the backup man; the loyal friend. With the Hulu release Self Reliance, Johnson takes that swagger of his and jumps behind the camera for his directorial debut. And he brings along some friends: Andy Samberg; Anna Kendrick; Emily Hampshire. Self Reliance has its moments coupled with some moderate twists and head-scratching weirdness but chills down too quickly with a mellow vibe that spoils any frantic action. Indeed, the overall movie simmers throughout when it should be boiling.
Johnson plays Tommy. And Tommy is boring. He lives with his mom. He’s safe with his routines. Until Andy Samberg shows up in a limo and offers Tommy a lot of green if he decides to play a little game. With nothing better to do, Tommy agrees and finds out that the “Dark Web” - the latest cinematic MacGuffin where anything magical, devious, or downright ordinary can happen – broadcasts a reality game where contestants are hunted down. By real hunters. And seeking real death. If the contestant manages to stay alive for 30 days, they win a million dollars.
Play ball, eh!
Tommy gets no support from his family and instead enlists the aid of a homeless man (Biff Wiff) to be his shadow and befriends Maddy (Anna Kendrick), who is also playing the game. Or is she?
Johnson draws up other feints, too. Is Tommy really being hunted? Does this game really exist on the Dark Web? And most importantly, is there an actual push to this story?
Self Reliance comes across as a lo-fi, slacker version of David Fincher’s mystery-thriller The Game. Within, Michael Douglas is invited to play a game that becomes unhinged and drastically life-threatening. The movie is fast, energic, and constantly has the viewer, as well as Douglas, guessing. Spoiler alert – for a movie that came out in 1997 – everything had been staged with the intention of helping Douglas become a better person and embrace life.
Ultimately, that is the endgame for Self Reliance, too. Loser Tommy must become, well, self reliant on his own abilities as a good person in order to become even better. He must surrender his drudgery for joi de vie.
Similar to Tommy’s life goals, Self Reliance is too scattershot tonally. Part rom-com, part action-thriller, all wrapped up with mumblecore introspection. Yes, Johnson has made a weirdly-fun movie but he treds much too easily over any sort of ramification. That final ribbon is obtained too soon denying the viewer the opportunity to properly enjoy the chase.