When a man is offered a million dollars to play a 30-day game in which hunters try to kill him, he thinks he has found the perfect loophole: they can only attack when he’s alone. His only problem is that none of his friends or family believe the game is real.
That’s the premise for the funny, offbeat, “Self Reliance,” an action-thriller-comedy from writer, director, and actor Jake Johnson. Much like its creator, this is a movie that has a disheveled and irreverent charm. And while Johnson doesn’t quite stick the landing here, the rest of the film is solid.
Taking inspiration from dark web reality shows, Johnson blends multiple genres into an oddly plausible premise (which makes it work). His script is creative with a clear vision, but his storytelling feels constricted by design in order to keep the mystery engaging. Because of this, the film gets a little repetitive, but the quirky, good-natured humor combined with an eccentric tone kept me laughing.
The chuckles start early on, when Tommy (Johnson) tries to explain his situation to his friends and family. They all think he is completely off his rocker and refuse to stay by his side. Desperate, Tommy makes friends with a homeless man he calls James (Biff Wiff), and the two are inseparable. Later on, he seeks out other contestants for advice and finds fellow participant Maddy (Anna Kendrick). The two figure if they stick together they can get through this game without being assassinated, if not a whole lot richer. That’s where the story dives into the need for human connection and the painful feeling of loneliness, but it never tucks too far into any deeper themes.
It’s best not to read too much about the film before watching it if you want to avoid spoiling the surprises twists, but be warned that the ending is a massive disappointment. The film is at its most successful early on, as Tommy desperately tries to make sure he has somebody nearby 24/7. When Johnson sticks to writing comedy, it’s a winner. When he moves on to crafting a thriller (and even worse, a romance), things don’t fare as well.
Johnson makes some rookie mistakes in his feature directorial debut, but his inventive screenplay makes “Self Reliance” as enjoyable as it is clever.
By: Louisa Moore