When you watch Pain Hustlers, and I don’t necessarily think that you should, but if you do, you’ll almost certainly be reminded of a handful of better films. The Wolf of Wall Street and Love and Other Drugs immediately spring to mind, but also Hustlers. Those movies are clear influences on this one, which does it no favors. Nor does Martin Scorsese‘s Killers of the Flower Moon being in theaters as well at the same time. Regardless, this drama is doing so many things you’ve already seen before, just not as well. It’s a picture of a picture, when you have ready access to the original.
Pain Hustlers is saved from complete mediocrity by its acting. Now, it’s not enough to completely rescue the flick, but had the performances been as generic as the rest of the work, this would have been a real chore. So, in that regard, it’s a saving race. At the same time, you do feel bad for the central pair, who are somewhat wasted, even if they’re turning in solid to good performances.
When we meet Liza Drake (Emily Blunt), she’s an exotic dancer trying to make ends meet. She’s divorced and caring for her daughter Phoebe (Chloe Coleman), who is suffering from seizures. At work, she meets Pete Brenner (Chris Evans), who she accurately pegs as a pharmaceutical rep. Offered a job, she quickly accepts, finding a failing company that’s unsuccessfully peddling a powerful new opioid. Almost by accident, she’s able to successfully pitch a doctor the drug, unlocking the key to selling it on a mass scale. In short order, Liza and Pete are rich, spearheading the company’s rapid ascent, addictive nature of the medicine be damned.
Of course, what goes up must come down. Eventually, though the company is making incredible amounts of money, giving Liza a whole new life, the piper must be paid. First, her and Pete’s boss Dr. Neel (Andy Garcia) begins getting weird and paranoid. Then, her first doctor (Brian d’Arcy James) gets arrested. Soon, it’s clear that the bubble has burst, with the only question being if she’s going to be able to get out unscathed, including with the ability to pay for an expensive surgery for Phoebe.
Emily Blunt is actually pretty good here, while Chris Evans has a solid energy in his more supporting role. They have mild chemistry, though the banter is fairly weak. Considering what they’re capable of, it’s a bit disappointing. Evans fades into the background at times, though at least Blunt and her character’s feisty nature get to be in prime focus. Andy Garcia, on the other hand, is very weird here. I can’t even say if it’s good or bad, but he’s certainly doing a thing. Chloe Coleman and Brian d’Arcy James are fine, but don’t have a ton to do, all told. Supporting players include Jay Duplass, Catherine O’Hara, Amit Shah, and more.
Director David Yates, working off of a script by Wells Tower, brings nothing original to the material. There’s a bit of style on display from Yates, as well as the occasional witty remark from Tower, but it all adds up to so little. What little fun there is in the first half is all but gone in the second half, ending on a whimper. Slack pacing makes the two hour movie seem even longer. So, it ends up becoming a bit of a slog.
Pain Hustlers is ultimately watchable, in addition to being well-acted, but it has nothing to say about its subject matter. It seems, despite the weight of its issue, to be fairly passively consumed. Taken on those merits, there are worse things out there. Still, given the talent involved, it should be so much better. As such, it’s impossible to recommend this film.