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{Movie Review}The Wave (2019) Karma’s A Bitch

The Wave is the sweetest morality play disguised as a time-traveling acid trip you never knew you needed.

The story of Frank(Justin Long), who goes out for a late-night bender with his friend Jeff(Donald Faison) and loses more than just a little sleep is full of beautiful shots and spectacular effects. Frank works at a soul-sucking law firm finding reasons to deny insurance claims. At home, his wife is less than supportive. As middle-aged, upper-middle-class men go, his life kind of sucks. His best friend and often trouble instigator is Jeff who works at the same nightmare law firm.

When a night of partying has unintended consequences, Frank and Jeff must determine what happened before it’s too late. As wave after wave of seeming misfortune finds them in increasing danger Frank learns to harness his newfound time-traveling powers. He finds more than his lost wallet along the way. Shifting between times, locations, and realities Frank is propelled through his life to find his friends and his destiny.

It sounds insane. There is no question, on paper it sounds more like a high school creative writing prompt than a thought-provoking, lovingly made film. The Wave is the sum of all its wonderful parts and as a result, is better than anyone of its pieces. Plenty of twists and turns will keep the genre lovers happy while humor and action will hook everyone else. This truly is a film that anyone can enjoy. It’s perfect for a date night or an evening with friends.

From the pen of Carl W. Lucas and directed by Gille Klabin comes The Wave, a surprising tender head trip that hits all the feels. The story of the Universe in the karmic sense on a mission to balance the scales of justice is simple but thoroughly enjoyable. There is even one final twist at the end that delivers a full snort of laughter for those who love to see the good guys win.

I admit, as someone who is a fan of early ’00s greats like Scrubs(2001) and Jeepers Creepers(2001) I was all in for the duo of Long and Faison. They are extremely charismatic actors who play well off one another. Faison’s Jeff is a well-intended but somewhat corrosive force in Frank’s life. It isn’t because he intends on corrupting him, but because he sees how miserable Frank is and thinks ill-timed debauchery is the answer. We all have that friend. Hell some of us are that friend.

Faison who has made a living playing the funny best friend is doing some of his best work in this film and ABC’s mystery box thriller Emergence. He has matured into something other than a silly sidekick. He has developed nuance to his humor which brings gravitas to his role as Jeff. Jeff initially presents as yet another buddy role but grows into a caring friend with a joke, a smile, and a car at the ready. You get the sense that when the credits roll it is not just Frank who has been changed by the experience.

Long who has been in a wide range of films from the most disturbing movie based on a true story Tusk where he plays way off-type or Dodgeball where he leans into his boyish charm. His brand of likability is perfect for this sci-fi fairy tale. When the events from his night of drug-fueled partying invade the next day we want him to figure it out. It is believable that he would want to eventually do the right thing. Frank is a character we want to succeed because we truly believe he is redeemable.

In a world where corporate horror is sheik, what makes The Wave work is the extreme likability of Long and the light touch Klabin takes. The film is concerned less with Frank being saved than him saving himself. The distinction, although slight, makes all the difference. It would be hard to care for a guy(even Long’s Frank) if he was just trying to save his horrible job and loveless marriage. It would be even harder to care if he was just trying to find his righteous purpose in life. Early on it becomes apparent we are rooting for Good with a capital G and Frank is just the cute vehicle to that end. Coupled with Klabin’s unique visuals and it becomes a fresh take on borrowed ground.

The Wave
Courtesy of Epic Pictures

Rounding out the cast is a grouping of small but memorable characters. Mysterious Theresa(Sheila Vand) is more than the party girl she first appears. Jeff’s hook up from the night before Natalie(Katia Winter) is a tough and resilient foil for Faison’s goofy Jeff. Standouts Tommy Flanagan as Aeolus and Ronnie Gene Blevins as drug dealer Ritchie are scene stealers that demand your attention every moment they are in. In particular, Blevins is as humorously off-putting as one could want. The hallucinogenic world of The Wave requires suitably bizarre players and Blevins delivers.

The Wave is gorgeously shot with full sequences animated in neon saturated graphic novel imagery reminiscent of A-Ha’s famous Take On Me video. This small budget film is stunningly rendered. EFX work was carefully crafted by Gille’s long-time collaborator Patrick Lawler.

Together they bring to life the mysterious worlds real and otherwise. This film looks like nothing you have ever seen before. Color techniques and shot manipulation combine to create some of the most interesting scenes. At times harsh and nightmarish and at others tranquil and awe-inspiring, the many locations Frank finds himself in are all as different as they are compelling.

The film progresses quickly without stalling into one formulaic trip after another. Each change of time and place brings something surprising and satisfactory. The third act is particularly rewarding and one final twist will leave you laughing. It’s a familiar story that could have been tired and overworked but instead feels well envisioned and produced.

To say I loved The Wave is an understatement. It is my kind of movie. It’s pretty, trippy, and sweet as pie. Think of it as a sci-fi Rudy with lots of drugs. The existential questions asked are never preachy just philosophically light enough to make you think without hurting your brain. Don’t overthink it, just go with the wave. The Wave premiers Friday everywhere.