Review by Sean Boelman
B.J. Novak is known for his prominent role on one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, the American version of The Office, so it’s surprising that his feature directorial debut, Vengeance, isn’t a bigger deal. Unfortunately, despite a few genuinely funny moments, the film suffers from a serious identity crisis coupled with a nearly insufferable superiority complex.
The movie follows a New York City radio host who travels to rural Texas to attend the funeral of a former tryst, sending him on an investigation into the circumstances of her death when he decides to make a true-crime podcast on the case. Given the popularity and acclaim with which the other true crime podcasting comedy, Only Murders in the Building, was met, one would think that this premise is not yet out of juice.
However, Novak’s style has a particular self-centeredness to it that ends up being quite annoying at times. Novak clearly thinks that the script he is writing is intelligent and groundbreaking, and while it sometimes offers some witty and insightful commentary, it’s hardly the essential work of satire that Novak seems to believe it is.
There are some genuinely funny moments spread throughout the film, but more often than not, it feels like Novak is dragging his feet and complaining that no one else in the world is as smart as he is. The funniest jokes are not those which are mean-spirited and biting, but the more wholesome ones.
The one thing that Novak does excel at doing is creating a cast of likable characters, his protagonist withstanding. The family of the deceased is much more interesting than the hero of the story, which is a problem, but at least it gives the audience someone to identify with. Boyd Holbrook ends up carrying a majority of the movie’s comedic weight.
Aside from Novak and Holbrook, the film does have a pretty stacked supporting cast that is entirely underutilized. Dove Cameron, J. Smith-Cameron, Issa Rae, and Ashton Kutcher all have small parts in the movie, but each only gets one or two scenes in which they get to do anything substantial. It would have been nice to see them with meatier roles.
However, most frustrating is that the film largely lacks a cohesive visual identity. The potential for it to be a modern-day Western murder mystery was right there, but what we instead get is a bland-looking comedy with a few shots that take advantage of the Texas setting and little else that is visually memorable.
A few moments in Vengeance are solidly enjoyable, but for the most part, it’s a lackluster murder-mystery. Perhaps if Novak hadn't centered the movie so strongly around his own character, it could have been far more watchable.
Vengeance is now playing in theaters.