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Although chances are good that something called This Is Your Death is not going to be admirably restrained in the subtlety department, there was at least the hope that this grotesque thriller wouldn’t have kept pivoting uneasily between audacious social satire and mawkish moralizing.
The darkly voyeuristic film, starring a well-cast Josh Duhamel as an impeccably groomed TV personality, who briefly finds himself in a moral quandary when he signs up for a new series in which the “winner” commits suicide in full view of a live audience, initially holds some Network-style intrigue.
Host of the standard-issue Married to a Millionaire, Duhamel’s Adam Rogers is forced to spring into unscripted action when a spurned contestant on the Bachelor knock-off fires a gun at the wealthy man before offing herself.
Initial horror soon gives way to opportunity, as coldly calculating production exec Ilana Katz (played to the steely hilt by Famke Janssen), sensing a ratings bonanza, hires Adam on for the new suicide-centered show. On This Is Your Death, a contestant’s winning backstory can allow him or her to leave behind big bucks once he or she pulls the plug in increasingly macabre fashion.
As their numbers go up, Adam, already a textbook narcissist, becomes consumed by his self-importance, and he and Ilana attempt to push whatever envelope remains for the upcoming big finale.
It’s clear that Noah Pink (creator of the upcoming Albert Einstein series Genius) and Kenny Yakkel had Paddy Chayefsky’s caustic pen in mind when writing the screenplay, but that early promise quickly evaporates once the film sheds its smirk and turns increasingly sanctimonious.
In his second time occupying the director’s chair (after 2008’s Gospel Hill), actor Giancarlo Esposito, who also plays the part of a financially struggling family man, demonstrates confidence choreographing the film’s dueling moods and maintaining a reasonably energetic pace.
He also draws some decent if rather predictable performances from his cast, with the exception of an amusing James Franco in one of his ubiquitous cameos — here playing a glibly chipper morning-show host who has you wishing he stuck around a little longer.
Production companies: Great Point Media, Dobre Films, Quiet Hand Films, Great Point Media, Weedon Media Ltd.
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Famke Janssen, Giancarlo Esposito, Sarah Wayne Callies, Caitlin Fitzgerald, James Franco
Director: Giancarlo Esposito
Screenwriters: Noah Pink, Kenny Yakkel
Producers: Christopher D’Elia, Giancarlo Esposito, Kenny Yakkel, Lawreen E. Kayl, Michael Klein
Executive producers: Jamie Goehring, Robert Halmi, Jr., Kevin Leeson, Trevor McWhinney, Jim Reeve, Shawn Williamson
Director of photography: Paul Mitchnick
Production designer: James Robbins
Costume designer: Cynthia Ann Summers
Editor: Jamie Alain
Composer: Rich Waters
Venue: South by Southwest (Narrative Spotlight)
Rated R, 104 minutes
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