The Wave is two-thirds of a cool movie. The final third becomes didactic in a way that's disappointing in its predictability. Many films fit nicely into one of two boxes – the “yeah, you should see it” box or the “no, skip it” box. This one falls right in the middle. Enough about it works to be worth a look for the curious on VOD, if not at the theater, where you'd pay full ticket price.
Justin Long plays Frank, a smug lawyer who has just figured out a way to stiff a dead fireman's family out of his life insurance money. To “celebrate,” his friend/colleague Jeff (Donald Faison) suggests they go out for some drinking, some philandering, maybe a little drugging. The guys end up at a party, where a woman named Theresa (Sheila Vand) convinces Frank to try a hallucinogenic drug being offered by a very shady-looking dealer.
Frank takes the drugs and then things get weird. Time and space lose all meaning, causing him to bounce around like a pinball between seemingly normal occurrences (going to work, talking to his wife, etc.) and creepy scenarios that seem to put his life in peril. Is this really happening, or is it one big hallucination? All Frank knows for sure is that he has to pull himself together in time for tomorrow morning's meeting with the boss.
The fun parts of The Wave focus on Frank's trip. You know how in a dream you start off in one place and then are suddenly somewhere else? He experiences that a lot. His office morphs into a drug den, which then becomes a celestial environment, and so on. A streak of dark humor runs through the story, as Frank tries desperately to make sense of his situation. He eventually starts to figure out a pattern to how he moves from place to place, so there is a potential escape. Finding Theresa, who goes missing amid all the chaos, proves to be a key component.
Justin Long does this kind of comedic confusion well. The actor is very good here, selling us on Frank's lack of a moral compass while still giving him an empathetic quality. Long also provides the character with a note of life-changing panic. Frank realizes that he has lost control – a commodity that's typically very important to him – and he's scared by that. It's such an interesting idea, one that Long brings to life.
The Wave fizzles out a bit in its final third. Perhaps you already guessed that the ordeal convinces Frank to become a better, more selfless person. We've seen that arc before, and the movie doesn't bring anything new to it. Instead, the plot gets convoluted with a series of bet-you-didn't-see-this-coming twists that purport to show Frank's growth but really just feel like attempts at screenwriting cleverness. What should be a knockout of a payoff instead loses steam.
Director Gille Klabin visualizes Frank's hell (and the heaven he intermittently glimpses) effectively, and additionally gets the audience to feel the disorientation his lead character is plagued by. When The Wave is in that mode, it's twisted fun. Watching him squirm gets the point across far more forcefully than the sermonizing third act does.
out of four
The Wave is rated R for strong drug content and language throughout, some disturbing images and sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.