The Wave highlights the realities of both stranger-danger and drug use, but what you really should be wary of is insurance companies.
Justin Long stars as Frank. Frank has an annoying wife (Sarah Minnich) and is barely keeping his head above water financially, but that’s all going to change after making his big presentation to the board at work. As a life insurance company employee, he has found a way to dodge a big payout, and he’s getting ready to bask in the glow of the approval from his bosses. Friend and coworker Jeff (Donald Faison) wants to help Frank celebrate on the eve of his presentation, and after some persuasion Frank gives in. After all, one night out can’t destroy his entire life, can it?
Funny I should ask that, because one night out can destroy everything. After meeting two women at a bar, following them to a party, and taking drugs from a stranger, Frank’s entire life falls apart. He wakes to not only have no wallet, drained bank accounts, and a wife who wants to never see him again, but the effects of whatever psychedelic he took will not wear off. A little friendly hallucination never really hurt anyone, but Frank’s trip takes him through both space and time. Then things go from bad to worse.
In any other actor’s hands, Frank might have come across as a big jerk. He cheats on his wife, works for the scummiest industry, and is a bit of a bore. But Long lends a certain degree of affection to the guy, and is able to show us that despite all of those poor qualities, there’s a potential for rehabilitation within his questionable heart.
Visually, The Wave has some interesting sequences that show what Frank is going through while he’s tripping. Though the film is a light, if cartoonish comedy, to Frank it’s definitely a horror film, complete with melting faces and uncontrollable blackouts. Seeing what he sees helps us to understand why he’s so anxious about everything going on in his mind, which explains his erratic behavior.
The Wave, however, falters a bit by having the plot be so tidy and a little heavy-handed in its messaging. Frank’s growth is easy enough to see for ourselves, along with the importance of integrity and the value of time, without having attention called to these elements on multiple occasions. Also, while most time travel movies need to have some internal mechanics that show us the assembly of the story on multiple timelines, here you can see how neatly this all will come together long before it happens. That eliminates a lot of potential engagement with the story from the start.
Equal parts Dude, Where’s My Car, The Hangover, and A Christmas Carol, The Wave is a fun enough way to watch one man piece together his bad times, when time has no meaning.