Fifty Pills likely got made on the strength of the commitment of Veronica Mars‘ Kristen Bell to costar, but this wildly uneven college comedy is Lou Taylor Pucci’s show all the way. The young actor — a notable bit player in movies like The Chumscrubber, Fast Food Nation and Southland Tales, and the star of Thumbsucker — gets a chance to exercise his slightly goofier leading man muscles in a story about a straight arrow college freshman who finds himself in the unusual position of having to peddle the titular amount of ecstasy tablets over one weekend in an effort to pay off an overdue $896 tuition bill.
Pucci stars as Darren Giles, a wide-eyed North Carolina kid who arrives for his first semester at the City College of New York and immediately finds his world turned upside down by rich, party-boy, drug-dealing roommate Coleman Anderson (John Hensley). Their wild opening night bash lands them both on academic probation, which is less of a big deal for Coleman, but jeopardizes lower-middle-class Darren’s scholarship. Flash forward to five months later — after his father has been laid off, and other avenues of primary resort have been conveniently sealed off — and Darren’s predicament. Oh… and did I mention Bell’s place in all of this? She’s the obligatory nice gal love interest, Gracie — the picture’s conscience, keeping Darren on the right track by helping remind the audience that he’s not really happy about having to do what he’s doing.
Written by Matthew Perniciaro (a producer on Fanboys, in which Bell also appears) and directed by Theo Avgerinos, Fifty Pills is a complete mish-mash of style and tone; Pucci is given some direct-address monologues, but the film isn’t really a Matthew Broderick-style charmer in the vein of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Its careening compression of time is problematic, and the romantic stuff with Gracie is pretty much non-earned and uninvolving, since the movie gives us only flashbacks to the putative beginning of their relationship and a bunch of stuff shoehorned in at the end. Additionally the movie is flatly designed and shot, and sketched pretty much only to take us from one stand-alone scenario to the next. The music is nice collection of alt-rock and emo college radio tunes, though, from bands like Helen Stellar, LaRocca, One Block Radius and New Sense.
Most of the other highlights, to the degree that that word can be used, come in the form of the movie’s cameo bit players, some of which offer up outlandish characters. Brick‘s Nora Zehetner plays Gracie’s bluntly self-centered, pot-smoking roomate to nice effect; American Pie‘s Eddie Kaye Thomas, meanwhile, plays her cousin — a trust fund dropout obsessed with Diff’rent Strokes. World Trade Center‘s Michael Pena pops up as a thug so aggrieved and scarred by a bad drug score from Coleman (he crapped his pants doing the Hammer dance, we’re told) that he sets off on a path of revenge, while Jane Lynch (a staple of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries) has a few scenes as Darren’s mother and Undeclared‘s Monica Keena portrays a dominatrix named Petunia who lives with her kindly grandmother.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Fifty Pills comes with a Dolby digital 2.0 stereo track. Bonus features weren’t featured on this review disc, but reportedly include deleted and extended scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette and an audio commentary track with the aforementioned filmmakers, as well as director of photography Harris Charalambous and producers Kevin Mann and Jake Demaray. C- (Movie) I, for Incomplete (Disc)