Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Wave: It’s a Trip

Should Frank have just said “no?” The consequences of the bean-counting attorney’s drug use are pretty dire. In fact, it might just cost him everything (really everything), but he just might reach the point where he can accept that in Gille Klabin’s down-the-rabbit-hole freak-out, The Wave, which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

Good old Frank is poised to finally win some positive attention from the firm’s senior partners when he spots a way to invalidate the hefty life insurance policy of a fire-fighter, who left behind a wife and kids (“they always do” is the cynical refrain of Frank’s colleagues). To celebrate his anticipated rising position in the firm (and for a respite from his not so passively aggressive wife), Frank joins his hard-partying colleague Jeff for celebratory drinks.

Jeff quickly gloms onto Nathalie and Theresa, the latter of whom really makes an impression on Frank. Consequently, he uncharacteristically joins them at an underground house party, where he and Theresa ill-advisedly partake of a mystery drug offered by mumbo-jumbo-spouting drug dealer (it will “hit you like a wave” he says). For a while, they gambol in some new age dreamscape, but when Frank wakes up, Theresa is gone, along with his wallet and all the available funds in his bank account.

Still tripping his lights out, Frank tries to make it through the most important business meeting of his career. Hoping to find something to take the edge off, he and Jeff set out in search of Theresa, only to discover she is missing in real life too. As Frank loses time and experiences waking visions, his grasp on reality weakens precipitously. Then things really go haywire for Frankie Boy.

There have been plenty of reality-problematizing movies before, but the way Klabin and screenwriter Carl W. Lucas manage to equally balance the humor and the disorientation is really something else. This is a wild ride, with some outrageous mayhem that does not always make total sense, but Klabin manages to fit the fractured pieces back together in clever ways.

Arguably, Justin Long is an appropriately plain vanilla thesp to play Frank and in fact, he freaks out rather effectively in the part. Donald Faison counter-balances him nicely, getting consistent laughs as the more free-spirited and sarcastic Jeff. However, the biggest roars come from genre stalwart Bill Sage, doing his funniest work perhaps ever as Frank’s gleefully loathsome boss Jonas. Sheila Vand is also perfectly cast as the hip and mysteriously Zen Theresa. It is baffling that she isn’t more famous with general audiences yet, but we cult movie fanatics know better.

Klabin manages to maintain the breakneck energy level from the first trip through the looking glass up until the conclusion, which is impressive. You can consider it something like a cross between Gilliam’s Brazil and Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder, but with more drugs and less paranoia. That would sound totally exhausting, but the humor keeps it zippy. Enthusiastically recommended for fans of head-tripping movies, The Wave opens tomorrow (1/17) in LA, at the Arena CineLounge.