Starring Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Eric McIntyre
Directed by Gary Yates
When Hollywood delves vein-deep into a druggie flick, the audience can usually be guaranteed at least one hallucination, a mumble-scream monologue, and careful layers of makeup — disguised as dirt — to subdue the pretty sheen of the actors’ faces. High Life delivers all of those requirements, and goes one step further by attempting to package a junkie-heist caper as comedy.
The basic premise is familiar: four losers hatch a get-rich-quick scheme (in this case, to rob a bank machine). The plot’s mastermind is Dick (Timothy Olyphant), a former lawyer who leads a group of stereotypical addicts, including hapless idiot Donnie (Joe Anderson), pretty boy Billy (Rossif Sutherland), and violent thug Bug (Stephen Eric McIntyre).
The “funny” parts of this dark comedy aren’t all that funny, coming as they do courtesy of the quartet’s crazy drug-fueled antics, and knowing nods to the early-’80s time period. (“Look, you can still smoke inside banks!” the film winks at us.) What does work, and to surprisingly moving effect, is the serious stuff under High Life’s facetious surface. Nuanced performances by Olyphant, as an absentee dad, and McIntyre, as an aging street hood struggling with his latent homosexuality, add layers of subtext to an otherwise lacklustre script.
Flying bullets, narcotics, and a body count can occasionally create comedic gold (hello, Pineapple Express!), but High Life isn’t an innocent little pot party. It dwells in the much harder, more devastating world of addiction, making it almost impossible for the film’s sketchy sad sacks to give an audience much to laugh about. ★★ —Andrea Warner