New Releases: Becky (2020)-Reviewed

Comedians making the jump to "serious" pictures isn't anything new. In fact, being a great or successful comedic actor is often harder than being a great dramatic actor because you have to straddle a thin line to keep the laughs coming. It's never as big of a surprise to me when they make the jump and pull it off successfully. Adam Sandler has been turning in the rare, sometimes year-best, dramatic performance for two decades now and most recently in last year's instant classic Uncut Gems. Following in his Happy Madison comrade's footsteps, Kevin James finally tries his hand at drama, logically diving head first into the role of...a Neo-Nazi escaped from prison now terrorizing a family in the middle of nowhere? 

No, you haven't passed out and hit your head. You read that right. The sitcome star is going all in.

Kevin James' Dominick is a violent white supremacist, shaved head, tattoos and all, who orchestrates a prison breakout at the start of the film. Intercut with this is our introduction to the titular Becky (Lulu Wilson). Becky is like most teens. She's withdrawn, quiet and not keen on long conversations with her father (Joel McHale). As Dominick breaks out of prison, kills cops and then a random father and his children, we learn that Becky's mother is recently deceased, adding to the tension between her and her father. As the two make their way to a lake house things between them come to a head as she realizes her father has brought her here to have a weekend outing with his girlfriend and her young son. And if that wasn't bad enough, Dominick and his Nazi crew show up just as Becky explodes in anger and runs off to her tree house. Our domestic teen drama crashes head on with a home invasion thriller as Becky is forced to fend off the men.

What's immediately noticeable is that despite this being absolute trash in the best sense of the word, it's apparent as soon as the violence starts that this is an exploitation flick, it's well made trash. Directors Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion know the kind of film they're making and know their audience well. They take just enough time to flesh their story out and devote the rest of the run time to delivering a violently, gory revenge thriller. The editing is terrific, doing the lion's share of work to intercut these seemingly disparate stories until the two merge. The score from Nima Fakrhara does a lot of leg work too. It's a fun, slightly synth-y piece that plunges this directly into the Midnight Movie Mood it's going for. 

Setting the film apart, however, is how violent it is. Dominick and his crew are at the lake house to retrieve a key that he'd hidden there before prison. Prior to his arrival, Becky found it while exploring the house. Once they begin harming her father, instead of turning it over, Becky snaps and it turns into a game of cat-and-mouse. In what can only be described as a "Grindhouse Home Alone", Becky systematically takes the men out through traps and by hiding in the woods and preying on them. The gore effects are outstanding and every kill tops the last. It's honestly shocking how far this film is willing to go with one moment involving eye trauma being the stand out. I'm not a particularly squeamish person but I have my moments. Eye trauma is tough to watch and not since Hostel has something made me physically ill quite like this. It might be too far for some but when you remember that the people being picked off are hateful scumbags, it's a lot easier to swallow. 

Lulu Wilson is so much fun as Becky. In translating her grief over her mother and anger at her father into uncorked rage at Nazis, she's a joy to watch. The juxtaposition between how tiny she is compared to some of these man is even better. She's like this little ball of violent rage repeatedly firing at these men until her job is done.

 Opposite her, Kevin James is very good. The film's biggest flaw though, is that it simply doesn't use him well enough. If you follow various circles on Film Twitter, there has been a bit of a groundswell behind "Kevin James can act if you put him in the right material." Last year there was a mini-push to give James his own Uncut Gems. And he more than proves himself. Any cognitive dissonance one might have about the bumbling clown of King of Queens and Paul Blart fame is instantly dissipated. He's so low-key, menacing and opts for a soft-spoken approach that makes his larger frame more terrifying. James is flat out scary in this but the film around him isn't as interesting as he is. It's a fast-paced, fun thrill ride to be sure but a little hollow by the time the credits roll. You remember the joyously gory set pieces more than any one performance and it's a shame because James is all in on this. Hopefully his next foray is something less disturbing and base and can allow him to flex his muscles a little better.

I saw Becky at a Drive-In, my first big screen outing in months. I don't know if it was low expectations, the thrill of seeing a movie in a public setting again or the fact that we're living in a violent time where people are, once again, having to march through the streets and fight for their humanity and seeing racist garbage viciously disposed of onscreen was a little catharsis for me. Let's go with that last one. But I dug the hell out of this. It's the perfect movie to see late at night, at a Drive-In eating junk food with some friends. It's a fun, violently gory exploitation flick that was made for the Midnight crowd and it knows it. Nothing more, nothing less.

-Brandon Streussnig