The hapless heroes at the heart of the comedy “Villains,” Mickey (Bill Skarsgard) and Jules (Maika Monroe), are just about the most inept criminals ever. Even when these two lovers manage to rob a gas station, they forget to put gas in their getaway car. Their incompetence leaves them stranded along a remote stretch of highway; the incompetence of the movie around them, however, has the unfortunate effect of leaving the audience even more helpless than the film’s protagonists.
Mickey and Jules take refuge in what they think is an empty home alongside the road. But their plans get complicated when they explore the house and find a child chained up in the basement. Armed with the gun they used to threaten the gas station clerk, Mickey and Jules attempt to take on the owners of the home upon their return.
The child’s captors George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick) prove to be wily — if quirky — opponents. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game between the two sets of crooks, where each couple proves again and again their inability to execute a proper plan.
“Villains” zigzags between tones, zanily bouncing between comedy and horror-esque thrills, but it fails to deliver any satisfaction through either genre.
As a thriller, it too frequently abandons the logic that’s necessary to maintain suspense. The writer-directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen are always improbably foiling their characters just as victory is in their grasp. And as a comedy, the jokes, built on tired stereotypes, don’t land — like the childless matron who carries a baby doll. Despite some committed performances, particularly from a refreshingly natural Maika Monroe, “Villains” is a hackneyed farce rich in gimmicks and poor in substance.
Rated R for language, sexual content, drug use, brief action sequences and suggestions of violence toward children. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes.
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