Chris Evans rapping about titration dressed as a fentanyl spray bottle was not on my 2023 bingo card. But thanks to the new Netflix movie Pain Hustlers, which began streaming yesterday, that sure is a thing that exists in the world now.
Directed by Harry Potter alum David Yates, with a screenplay by Wells Tower, Pain Hustlers is loosely based on the true story of Insys Therapeutics, an Arizona-based pharmaceutical company that supplied a pain-relief opioid drug called Subsys. Subsys was a liquid form of fentanyl, applied via a spray bottle under the tongue. The drug was supposed to be exclusively for breakthrough cancer pain—meaning cancer patients who still felt pain that “broke through” all the other drugs they were on. But in May of 2019, Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor and four Insys Therapeutics executives were convicted of racketeering conspiracy, for bribing doctors to prescribe this highly-addictive drug to patients who did not need it.
Though names are changed in the film—the company name, Insys, was changed to “Zana,” and the drug name, Subsys, was changed to “Lonafen”—the drug is still a fentanyl spray. This is how Chris Evans, who plays an executive named Peter Brenner, ends up in a bizarre spray bottle body suit, rapping about increasing the dosages of their patients, while hot girls in mid-drift hoodies gyrate behind him.
It is not a good rap. It’s a decidedly bad rap, in fact. “You want a full commission? / Here’s a thing you gotta try / Titration, yo / Peep the gains to the dose,” is just one example of the cringe-inducing lyrics, set to a nearly non-existent beat. If you’re prone to second-hand embarrassment, this scene is nearly impossible to watch. How do we get Chris Evans a better agent? He doesn’t deserve this.
That said, this rap is not supposed to be a moment of triumph. As viewers who stick around for the credits will see, the rap was inspired by an actual rap video of Insys Therapeutics employees—including then-vice president of sales, Alec Burlakoff, who partially inspired Evans’s character—singing a parody of the A$AP Rocky song, “F–kin’ Problems.” In it, Burlakoff brags about “titration,” which in this context, meant increasing the dosage of this highly-addictive drug. The video was shown to a jury where Insys Therapeutics Inc. Founder John Kapoor and four other executives were on trial for bribing doctors into prescribing their medication to patients who didn’t need it.
It’s pretty deplorable, all things considered. If it makes you feel any better, at least one of the slimeballs in this video, Burlakoff, was sentenced to 26 months in prison, and three years of supervised release, in 2020.
For what it’s worth, the real video is much catchier than the lackluster lyrics Pain Hustlers director David Yaters made poor Evans sing. But maybe that’s the point—even in a movie where they’re played by Captain America, these criminals don’t deserve to look good. If that’s the angle, then I thank Chris Evans for his brave sacrifice.