Catch Hell is an extremely personal dissection of celebrity culture straight from the mind of Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Phillippe, addressing the actor’s fall from mainstream grace. Phillippe comments on the seedy nature of celebutante social media usage, entitled actor egos and obsessed fandoms, but even amidst the gator-wrasslin’ and hostage beatings, Catch Hell becomes a smidge self-indulgent. Between a yokel’s fatal attraction and Phillippe’s almost martyr-like mentality, sympathy is the last emotion conjured by Ryan’s character Reagan Pearce (R.P. – clever). Yes, we’re supposed to care for the tormented actor who still lives a life of luxury despite his dimming spotlight, because everyone loves a Southern-fried redemption story that takes place in a Louisiana swamp, right?
Phillippe plays Reagan Pearce, a struggling actor desperate to regain his superstar status. In order to do so, Pearce must take a few roles that don’t scream blockbuster potential, with his latest project taking him to Shreveport, Louisiana. After having some reservations after meeting with an out-of-touch director, Pearce decides to tough it out and stay aboard. This proves to be the wrong decision, as he’s kidnapped the very next morning by a man who claims Pearce ruined his life. Chained to a pipe and locked away in a shed, Pearce endures both physical and mental torture at the hands of his captors, as he struggles to recall what wrongdoings caused his current predicament.
On a darker note, Catch Hell is about never escaping the sins of our past. Reagan Pearce lives the normal life of an overwhelmed celebrity, screwing up no more than you or I, yet he endures endless public scrutiny because of constant paparazzi attention that creates a magnifying effect on each slip. We meet Reagan after a stint in rehab, in a healthy state, but he still can’t avoid a past hiccup. There are consequences for our actions, and sometimes those consequences takes years to make themselves known, but we simply can’t run away from a sullied past. Our actions send ripples like dropping a stone into water, reaching much farther than we can even comprehend – but we know such philosophical jargon already.
Catch Hell becomes a torture thriller with a twist of Deliverance thrown in, yet neither the aggressors nor victim are emotionally relatable. Pearce is supposed to be a disenchanted socialite who eventually comes to realize just how lucky he’s been, yet there’s never any emotional bombs dropped through admittance or acceptance. Reagan’s establishing shots showcase a lavish California-like house, shimmering poolside patio and immense wealth, which eventually is supposed to contrast with an angsty personality so unjustly believing in a “woe is me” motto. Such are the complaints of non-Hollywood plebeians who scoff at such an attitude, and it’s almost as if Phillippe’s screenplay (co-written by Joe Gossett) attempts to win over those jealous types in the shallowest of manners. To describe Catch Hell in one word is easy – disconnected.
Pearce’s captors are equally outlandish, as the ringleader orchestrates his crime after discovering the studly actor was bangin’ his girl – allegedly. Mike (Ian Barford) is a Dixie stereotype through and through, throwing around the word “faggot” without restraint in all his wife beatin’ glory, and his druggie partner Junior (Stephen Louis Grush) isn’t much better. Being one Confederate-flag-cape away from cartoonish villainy, these two bumble on and on with their hilariously inept plan while we watch Pearce con his way into hopeful freedom. Unfortunately for Catch Hell, the two antagonists are horridly written and riddled with weaknesses, which destroys any hopes of a thrilling, gripping hostage thriller.
I’m not saying I’ll ever know what it feels like to be scrutinized by every gossipy website and television show, but Catch Hell is a failed attempt to help audiences understand the trails and tribulations of actors forced into an obsessive limelight. The money, the fame, the kidnappings – is it all worth being judged by people who will never truly understand you? It’s easy for the unfathomably wealthy to express how hard it is being internationally loved, yet they’re not the ones living paycheck to paycheck in a NYC apartment no bigger than George Clooney’s closet. Those sentiments may have nothing to do with Reagan Pearce’s personal redemption, but those are the negative emotions that Catch Hell manages to drum up, leaving us on a sour note that lingers far past the credits.
Catch Hell wastes a generic hostage story on cartoonish characters who redefine what we deem to be stereotypical.