If you’re looking for an excellent dark comedy with unique characters, small-town charm, and gripping drama, go watch “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” If you’re in the mood for a terribly acted “dark comedy” that is neither dark nor comedic, waste a hundred minutes watching “Spent.”
Directed by Lisa Mikitarian, “Spent” follows a greedy wife and son waiting for their cheapskate husband and father, Herbert, to die of a brain tumor. However, a Fourth of July miracle cures Herbert of his affliction, thwarting their plans to spend his inheritance. Disappointed by Herbert’s newfound vitality, the wife and son try to turn the miracle into a tragedy with rat poison.
Considering the film’s potential to be an enjoyable sleeper hit based on its premise’s solid foundation, it's amazing how all that potential effortlessly goes to waste. For starters, the acting in this film is as subtle as a bullhorn. All the actors seem to have learned about human emotion just the other day, and are overcompensating for a prior life without it.
To be fair, their characters are about as deep as a kiddie pool, so it may make sense to play them like Saturday morning cartoon characters. In a dark comedy, the audience is supposed to feel a bit sympathetic towards their deeply flawed anti-heroic protagonists, but “Spent“ showcases superficial characters that are completely unlikable. Every single character, despite their vapidness and desperation, attempts to be somewhat interesting. For example, Herbert’s son engages in random musical numbers with his monotone voice to add a forced “quirky” element to the film.
Characters aside, the film’s editing is terrible. “Spent” has surprisingly solid cinematography, displaying impressively smooth camerawork and a good understanding of shot composition. One of the opening scenes, for example, has a masterful wide-angle shot of a bedroom with the morning light streaming through, which gave me false hope for a quality film. However, even when the film does something right, it has to ruin it by pairing good shots with, in the words of the film’s closed captioning, “sultry rock music” and “soft sultry music.” Not to mention that this movie unironically used a record-scratch. After that, you’d almost expect a freeze frame and a “Yup, that’s me, now you’re probably wondering how I got here,” but surprise, surprise, “Spent” disappoints once again.
“Spent” was made on a shoestring budget of $25,000, which may have played a role into its abysmal quality. However, its biggest problem by far is its screenplay. If this movie had quality dialogue and a morsel of comedic tension in its final script, the film would have been ten times better. Nevertheless, a dark comedy can really forgo anything but a witty and thoughtful script. “Spent”’s attempts to be charming fail miserably as worn out comedic tropes are rehashed and quips fall flat. For example, much of the comedy revolves around Herbert being a penny-pinching miser, but you can only extend that creative fabric so far. The constant reliance on the gag makes the film feel like an SNL skit that has gone on far too long.
But even these filmic faux pas are no match for the final 20 minutes of the film. Without going into spoiler territory because, after reading this review, you must be dying to see it, “Spent” undergoes a complete genre transformation. The terrible dark comedy turns into a terrible moralistic melodrama in an instant. Dear “Spent,” if you’re going to be a bad movie, at least stick to your genre. Don’t pivot at the last minute and make all your initial appeal completely worthless.
Do not spend any time watching “Spent.” It’s a poorly-executed drudgery of a film. There will be no Fourth of July miracle for viewers who undergo this affliction.
—Staff writer Michael A. Bruce-Rivera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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