Pain Hustlers may be the #1 movie on Netflix in the US right now, but as we’ve shown time and time again that’s probably more a function of recency than anything else (and it’s certainly not a guarantee of quality). The new movie — which wants so badly to say something important about Big Pharma, and ends up settling for a glib “drug reps can be sketchy” message — certainly boasts a stacked cast. Emily Blunt, Chris Evans, Andy Garcia, and Catherine O’Hara are among the heavy hitters brought in to turn this film into an Adam McKay-style industry takedown.
As for how it’s being received so far, though, the movie has opened up quite a split among critics and fans. Among the former, Pain Hustlers comes off more like just a pain. At present, it’s got a pretty abysmal 23% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes, while fans have scored it much, much higher on the review aggregation site (at 73%).
Often, when you see this wide of a split among critics and fans, it can be explained at least partly by a lack of one of the other. You might see an abundance of fan ratings, for example, and a mere handful of reviews from professional critics. But that’s not the case with Pain Hustlers, which has a comparable amount of ratings from both camps as of this writing (81 reviews from critics, and more than 100 user ratings).
The current IMDb rating for Pain Hustlers, by the way, also tells a similar story. There, the movie has a meh 6.4/10 rating.
According to the critics’ consensus on the Tomato site, it’s “lackluster execution” that doomed the movie, which nevertheless boasted a strong premise and top-notch acting talent. Among the best audience reviews you’ll find for Pain Hustlers, meanwhile, are those that rate it on par with a “weekend movie,” which is to say not great and not terrible.
If you’re interested in the subject matter, there are certainly more worthwhile TV shows and movies that go inside the drug industry and lay bare its many sins. Among those that come to mind are Hulu’s Dopesick, Netflix’s Painkiller, and HBO’s The Crime of the Century, all of which tell stories connected to the opioid crisis. Pain Hustlers very much tries to do the same thing, as screenwriter Wells Tower explains in a Netflix promotional interview:
“I was just astounded by this incredible story,” Tower says. “I found it mind-blowing that these people, who for the most part have no medical training, have so much influence over the medications we’re prescribed. And they have this influence because they’re bribing doctors to prescribe medications, in this case fentanyl, even to patients who don’t need it. I knew we had a story on our hands that could offer some really shocking insights into how American medicine works.”