A somewhat tedious game: Hulu’s ‘Self Reliance’ has enjoyable moments, but it feels padded

Jake Johnson makes his directorial debut with Self Reliance, a comedy about a fictional dark-web game. Johnson also wrote and stars in the film—and unfortunately, he doesn’t pull all of its elements together in a cohesive way.

Things start promisingly as Tommy (Johnson) is picked up in a limo by a very nervous Andy Samberg, playing himself. Samberg—while continuously pointing out that it’s a paid gig that he might regret taking—lets Tommy know that he’s been chosen for a game in which he could win a million dollars. He’s going to be hunted by mostly unseen foes, and in order to stay alive, he must never be alone. He’ll also be constantly filmed wherever he goes.

This scenario creates some relatively funny moments, such as when the unseen production crew reveals itself in Tommy’s bedroom (there are a whole bunch of people), and when Tommy winds up befriending a homeless man (Biff Wiff) to keep him company. Tommy is eventually contacted by another contestant, Maddy (Anna Kendrick), and they conspire to complete the game together.

The film hums along for stretches and is mildly entertaining, but there are too many scenes that feel padded with useless dialogue. It often feels like the idea for the movie doesn’t have enough going for it to justify its already-meager 85-minute running time; this should’ve been an hour long, max. Too many scenes feel like the actors were simply instructed to stretch things out.

Kendrick is charming and funny in whatever she does, and that’s certainly the case here. Johnson is a master of wise-guy comedy, and he’s mostly in good form. The best parts of the film belong to the few scenes containing Samberg, who taps into something a little darker than what we usually see from him.

Self Reliance’s enjoyable moments prove Johnson has some potential as a director. Perhaps he should just go behind the camera next time and let others do the acting, giving him a chance to focus on the story and flow.

Self Reliance is now streaming on Hulu.

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