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Whatever it is — a comedy, a satire or a drama — Kajillionaire quickly goes bankrupt.


The Dyne family stages another mail run
The Dyne family stages another mail run

Kajillionaire succeeds at creating a weird sense of discomfort, the kind of uneasiness that stems from a movie that opens strong then — within mere minutes — careens into the gutter and wallows around, trying to pull itself back out with chatter, themes and ideas that seem to trash commercialism, criticize the disintegration of the nuclear family, claw at existentialism and — for the why-not-of-it — try to be life-affirming.

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That’s exactly what the lead characters would do.

For what little novelty it’s worth, check out a virtually unrecognizable Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment) as a gray-haired mother of one and scammer of all. That’s Theresa Dyne. Her husband is Robert Dyne (Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water). Maybe they have some sort of back story in the real estate market and the proliferation of coupon books, but there’s no serious attempt at making these characters seem even remotely real or relatable.

And then there’s their daughter, given the remarkably strange name of Old Dolio Dyne; she’s named after a lottery winner. That’s 33-year-old Evan Rachel Wood (HBO’s Westworld) playing a 26-year-old who’s running scams as a teenage private school student. Give Wood credit. She creates a particularly peculiar character. Her voice, her mannerisms, her lack of fashion sense. Quirky doesn’t even begin to describe this one. And, actually, following Old Dolio is the only reason to even try to make it to the finish line, 106 squirmy minutes after this oddball flick gets started.

Run the Buckets

This Chernobyl of a family runs scams. That’s how they try to pay the bills with an impressively unsuccessful track record. They live in an office space adjacent to a bubble company. Soap seeps down the back wall of their makeshift residence and, thusly, prompts Robert to tell Old Dolio to “run the buckets” and catch all the soapiness then dump it down the drain.

The not-so-dynamic trio duck to fall below the fence line as they pass by their landlord, who charges them $500/month for rent when he could charge a business 10 grand month after month. And these hard-up chumps are still three months in arrears.

So. Yeah. That’s the field this comedy plays in, with ever-dwindling success once the energy derived from seeing Old Dolio take absurd military-style maneuvers as she makes her way into the post office in order to steal other people’s packages wears off and the movie’s lack of ingenuity reveals itself painfully, frame after frame.

These are scammers that, ultimately, have no clue about the value of anything. Old Dolio awkwardly attempts to trade a 60-minute massage for anything in the room she perceives to have some sort of resale value. But the masseuse won’t have any of it and, lamely, Old Dolio settles for a 20-minute massage.

But, okay, that whole bizzarro scene introduces this one concept: Old Dolio doesn’t get much affection or touching. She feels too much pressure until the masseuse keeps her hands about three inches away from the fraudster’s flesh. Hers is a family devoid of even a single scrap of emotional connectivity.

No surprise, then, that such deep-seated emotional detachment reaches out and sucks the audience into its abyss of numbness.

Old Dolio and the Meaning of Life

As the Dynes attempt to pull off a major luggage scam that’ll cover their back-rent, they take on a new ally, Melanie (Gina Rodriguez, TV’s Jane the Virgin). She’s willing to get in on the action and steal from lonely people, even an old man on his death bed. Maybe the Farrelly brothers could do something with this material; they excel at making squirm-inducing humor fun. But here, it’s a bushelful of awkwardness with absolutely no place to go. Even Melanie has to draw the line when Robert wants to drop his drawers and share a hot tub with her.

Where was this whole mess supposed to go? What was the big idea that inspired the screenplay by writer/director Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know)? Wherever and whatever it was, the end product is an unpleasant mix of something that comes across as somehow smug, hypocritical and most definitely completely hollow.

By the end of it all, there’s no appreciation for these characters or their pitiful situations. They haven’t earned it. A scam movie needs something clever to drive the action. A comedy needs something funny to generate the laughs. A drama needs characters worth caring about. The quirkiness of the Dyne family’s behaviors as the movie opens pricks up the ears and the eyes, but it never develops into something of purpose.

To that end, on all accounts, Kajillionaire has insufficient funds.