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Review: There's No Pill Available to Make 'Pain Hustlers' Bearable

"If I'm lying, you can kiss me anywhere you want on this perfect body."

The decade is the 2010s. Florida has become the epicenter for new and interesting ideas surrounding the pharmaceutical industry. The drug of choice? Opioids. But who are the people behind what will soon become an epidemic crisis in America, and how did these drug pushers reach this point in their careers?

Enter Liza Drake (Emily Blunt), a drop-dead gorgeous high school dropout eager to make some money to provide for her troubled daughter Phoebe (Chloe Coleman). Relegated to living in run-down motels, working odd jobs to stop mooching off of her mother Jackie (Catherine O'Hara), Liza is at the end of her rope, residing in Central Florida. One night at a strip club, she meets Pete Brenner (Chris Evans), a charismatic pharmaceutical sales representative. One thing leads to another, and Liza cons her way into a job at the failing company Pete works for, run by the wealthy Jack Neel (Andy Garcia).

But Liza is no slouch when it comes to working her way to the top using slightly unethical methods. Ok, maybe more than slightly. She has a gift for reading people and knowing what makes them tick. Liza and Pete begin a scheme to influence doctors in prescribing their fentanyl products to patients with pain troubles, sparking an addiction problem in the area. As their techniques prove successful and the company sees record-breaking profits, doctors become richer, and patients around Central Florida start lining up to clinics looking for more pain pills even when they no longer have pain. Everyone is playing in the mud to win, while the competition and the federal government begin to take notice.

Depicted in more in-depth projects like Netflix's "The Pharmacist" and Hulu's "Dopesick," the opioid crisis is one of the biggest stories in American culture in recent years. Though "Pain Hustlers" claims to be based on actual events and director David Yates utilizes black-and-white character interviews spliced into Liza and Pete's colorful world, the movie is not as compelling as it wants. It constantly strives to be "The Wolf of Wall Street" mixed with "Love & Other Drugs," but fails in almost every way.

Every actor in this vehicle is doing their very best to convey the material in a dark, comedic manner, with Catherine O'Hara standing out above the rest as a scene-stealing gem. However, Yates' desire to make the film as authentic as possible with shaky camera movements and undesirable dialogue fails to drive the movie's point across. These are supposed to be unlikable characters who view having money as dignity, but everyone seems to point fingers at each other rather than themselves in pivotal moments. When Liza comes to her senses and begins working to dismantle the company that's made her rich in a short amount of time, the audience is indifferent to her valiant cause.

"Pain Hustlers" is a waste of great actors and an interesting premise that's unfortunately been exhausted by other more worthwhile documentaries and fictional portrayals that have come before it. Chris Evans utilizes a slimy, distasteful demeanor while playing Pete Brenner, whose accent simply can't be forgiven. Emily Blunt attempts to make Liza and her life's goals relatable, but her entire storyline falters quickly. The film is chaotically-paced, predictable, dirty, and unfunny.

In a world where everyone is a liar and a cheat, the characters of "Pain Hustlers" pull the strings and fall flat on their faces in the process. Very few have redeemable qualities, and the comparisons to real-life events need to hit more robustly. It's an unfortunate turn for a cast and crew of talented players who deserve a better film.

This one just isn't it.

Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟1/2

"Pain Hustlers" hits select theaters on October 20th, followed by a streaming release on Netflix on October 27th.


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