Executing a dark comedy is by no means an easy task for any director. Unless the nihilistic laughs serve to emphasize some grander theme or statement about our society, the film is in danger of suffocating in its own cynicism. That unfortunate fate befalls Extracurricular Activities, director Jay Lowi’s 18-years-in-the-making follow-up to his 2001 atrocious thriller Tangled. While infinitely superior to that Rachael Leigh Cook-starrer, Lowi’s latest self-proclaimed “trip” (he one-ups Spike Lee on that one) is so focused on its central gimmick, it forgets to make the audience root for its one-dimensional Patrick Bateman wannabe anti-hero or make any coherent philosophical points. As a result, the film’s a neither-here-nor-there experience, functional and even sporadically entertaining while it lasts, but leaving a sour taste after the credits roll.
“You really aren’t like the other guys,” a character tells Regan (Colin Ford), the chisel-cheeked, blonde protagonist of Lowi’s “trip.” A seemingly straight-edge perfectionist, “pale, delicate, preppy-looking” Reagan secretly murders his classmates’ parents, taking a portion of their life insurance as payment. “Some people choose to work at Yogurt City,” Sean says. “I choose not to.” Whether it’s a car crash, a drowning or a car explosion, Reagan orchestrates his killings with surgical precision, making them look like accidents. He justifies his horrible acts by claiming his victims are uniformly irredeemable, abusive, racist, “homophobic, fat-shaming” assholes. Obviously, the young goth’s nudist granola-crunching folks, or the nerd’s vehemently horny mother, have to die.
“…‘pale, delicate, preppy-looking’ Reagan secretly murders his classmates’ parents, taking a portion of their life insurance as payment…”
Reagan is so methodical, only detective Cliff Dawkins (Timothy Simons), forever infamous for some “Adderall bust,” is onto him – but no one in the police department, least the chief, takes the gawky man seriously. Cliff engages in a game of cat and mouse with Reagan, the latter always one step ahead of the former. There’s also Mary Alice (Ellie Bamber), Reagan’s love interest of sort, who plays a crucial role in the film’s twisty resolution.
What prompted the all-American, clean-cut boy to murder? Is this the start of a lucrative business for Reagan? Does he truly believe – akin to fellow “avenger,” Showtime’s Dexter – that he’s only killing “bad” people? Colin Ford’s natural charisma and unflinching demeanor come close, but don’t quite compensate for an underwritten character. Timothy Simons, most famous for his hilarious dumbass Jonah on HBO’s Emmy magnet Veep, scales back on the eccentrics but is stereotyped as yet another goofball, pestered by his coworkers. I didn’t know whether to take his descent into a sleep-deprived obsession here seriously, or giggle at the sight of his half-broken lanky figure, frazzled hair and baggy eyes.
“I appreciated the filmmaking craft on display and how the filmmaker avoids explicit gore…”
The impressive supporting cast – which includes The Office’s Angela Kinsey and Patti Cake$’ Danielle Macdonald – is criminally underused, appearing for seconds at most, ostensibly to inject the film with some clout. They may have dodged a bullet – the usually-hilarious Bobby Lee may wish to leave his extended cameo as a party fool off his resume. (“I’m Mr. Forty-Hands!” he proclaims, beer bottles in both hands.)
I liked the way Lowi and screenwriter Bob Saenz gradually reveal Reagan’s schemes. I appreciated the filmmaking craft on display, and how the filmmaker avoids explicit gore (which would’ve tipped the film into “tasteless” territory). Yet there’s little-to-no psychological insight; Extracurricular Activities is neither a statement on the increasing nihilism / takeover of Generation Z nor an indictment of their parents’ ignorance. Worst of all, it’s rarely funny or witty. Unlike the films it aspires to – Heathers, Election, American Psycho or even The Voices – Lowi’s feature’s all sizzle, no steak.
Extracurricular Activities (2019) Directed by Jay Lowi. Written by Bob Saenz. Starring Colin Ford, Timothy Simons, Ellie Bamber, Angela Kinsey, Patrick Fabian, Paul Iacono, Danielle Macdonald.
5 out of 10