Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Self Reliance, on Hulu

The dark web must be jumping the shark if it would bother with Thomas Walcott. It is not entirely fair to call him a loser. He just had a few setbacks and has temporarily given up. When they recruit him for their survival show, he figures he has nothing to lose in director-screenwriter-star Jake Johnson’s Self Reliance (no hyphen), which premieres Friday on Hulu.

Walcott lives with him mother, but he hardly sees her or anyone else. He is still reeling from and baffled by his longtime girlfriend’s decision to dump him. Consequently, Walcott figures he has little to lose when a Danish dark web outfit recruits him to be their hunters’ latest prey. They obviously have money, since they hired Andy Samberg (playing his debt-ridden self) to make the initial contact.

Weirdly, he is pretty confident he can exploit the rules long enough to survive his designated thirty days. As long as he with someone, the hunters cannot strike. Yet, his mother and family refuse to indulge what they assume is his delusion. Instead, he hires a homeless man to be his shadow, until another player reaches out. Maddy expresses interest in teaming up and when he meets her, he happily agrees, but the dark web “ninja production assistants” keep warning him not to feel too safe.

Johnson’s script is intermittently amusing, but it overwhelmingly favors comedy over the
Most Dangerous Game­-style thriller elements. The ratio would be 90/10 or greater. Fortunately, Johnson and Anna Kendrick bring a lot of energy to the film. They develop an odd but effectively syncopated bantering rhythm that earns most of the films laughs.

Biff Wiff has some nice moments coaching Walcott as “James,” his new homeless friend. Johnson also exploits several ironic cameos, including Samberg’s snarky self-portrayal. The great Christopher Lloyd also makes the most of his third act appearance as a significant figure from Walcott’s past.

However, the film suffers from the absence of major antagonist for Walcott to react against. The Ellen Degeneres lookalike assassin just doesn’t suffice, nor does the
Mulholland Drive-ish cowboy. Johnson gives his character a respectable development arc, but it all seems to come relatively easily. Rarely, does it ever feel like Walcott faces any significant peril, which is a big shortcoming. Frankly, the film might be too nice. Not memorable enough to recommend, Self Reliance starts streaming Friday (1/12) on Hulu.