7.6

Becky Offers up Brief but Bloody Catharsis (and Kevin James)

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<i>Becky</i> Offers up Brief but Bloody Catharsis (and Kevin James)

Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion have made an odd career together caroming from one genre to another, from bad-taste zombie flick Cooties, to urban war movie Bushwick. All they share in common apart from their directing credits is an absence of an ending and what feels like open apathy toward the concept of resolution. That attitude carries through in their latest, Becky, but Becky at least delivers Nazi-killing action in what’s essentially a mash-up of Home Alone and The Aggression Scale, with a sprinkle of I Spit on Your Grave on top.

Becky’s about, well, Becky (Lulu Wilson), a deeply troubled teen with a cornball single dad (Joel McHale), a dead mother and breathtaking anger management issues. Becky and dad don’t get on very well, no matter how hard he tries, because if teenage boys are mollusks, teenage girls are Venus flytraps. Nothing the poor putz does to cheer her up is met by a half-smile, much less gratitude and a hug, so he goes for broke and plans a weekend away at their lake house for just the two of them, plus his new fiancée, Kayla (Amanda Brugel), and her young son, Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe). Naturally, Becky feels betrayed and angered by the surprise, but the feelings dissipate when they’re joined by more unwelcome visitors: a gang of white supremacists led by Dominick (Kevin James), on the run after escaping from prison and making a pit stop at the house to retrieve a McGuffin hid there prior to incarceration.

It’s a mistake to think of Becky as “the movie where Kevin James plays a racist criminal,” but James is in fact one of the film’s major draws. Surprise: He’s pretty damn good in the role, a quiet, menacing and, thanks to the persona he’s cultivated over years playing hapless dopes in The King of Queens and both Paul Blart movies, totally unassuming. He’s a teddy bear at a glance, admittedly modeled after a Kodiak, but still: If he showed up at your vacation home and asked if he could use your phone, you’d probably say “sure.” Moments later, your family would be tied up and helpless and, boy, you’d feel like an idiot for trusting him.

More than just play off James’ image, though, Becky lets him create a new one, balancing moments of shocking gore against his humble nice guy veneer. At one point, Dominick, his first acquaintances with Becky having gone awry, hacks off what’s left of his optic nerve with a kitchen knife after taking a sharp object to his eye, and James plays the beat like he’s suffered an inconvenience instead of ocular trauma. It’s a gross cringe moment made cringier by his presence. He isn’t, however, the only person in the movie to leave an impression: Wilson operates in a similar vein as James, her cards kept close to the chest as she fluctuates from unstable to cold and calculating. She’s kind of like a trained attack dog without the training. Give her pencils and a zipline, and Becky will put them together into a combined killing unit for offing neo-Nazis. She’s savage enough that you almost feel sorry for the bastards. Almost.

Milott and Murnion, playing with a script from Nick Morris and married screenwriting duo Lane and Ruckus Skye, never miss an opportunity to remind the audience that Dominick and his crew are bad, bad men, with occasional pauses for his right hand man, Apex (the towering Robert Maillet), to wrestle with his conscience, because not all white supremacists are remorseless monsters. (This message, given the current circumstances of the U.S., probably won’t play well for most, though Maillet’s gentle giant performance helps soften the unfashionable characterization.) Nor do they let viewers forget Becky’s admittedly vague behavioral issues, which at most appear driven by the loss of her mom, who might have functioned as her own conscience. Becky takes care to sketch an invisible bond between her and Dominick, who both use brutal violence to achieve their ends; the only thing differentiating is the ends themselves. Regardless, the movie draws chaotic energy from that intangible connection, allowing the plot to bypass its missteps, which mostly crop up in the climax anyways.

Don’t confuse Becky for a smart movie. It won’t teach audiences anything valuable, or even new, about the disease of white supremacist ideology. It won’t leave folks holding hands in solidarity against racism and prejudice at a time when solidarity is like oxygen. It will, however, provide a brief burst of catharsis through the brutal slaughter of white supremacist ideologues, for whatever that catharsis is worth.

Director: Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Writer: Nick Morris, Lane Skye, Ruckus Skye
Starring: Lulu Wilson, Kevin James, Robert Maillet, Joel McHale, Amanda Brugel, Ryan McDonald, Isaiah Rockcliffe
Release Date: June 5, 2020


Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.

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