Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans



Directed by BJ Novak.
Starring BJ Novak, Boyd Holbrook, Ashton Kutcher.
Comedy/drama, US, 107 minutes, certificate 15.

Released in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray January 16th by Universal.


Fans of the US remake of The Office will no doubt be curious to check out BJ Novak’s writing and directing film debut VENGEANCE. With his regular writing duties and his acting turn as devious temp Ryan, Novak seems to have retreated from the spotlight since then, with only sporadic directing credits on TV. This dark hearted comedy trades on his low-key sarcasm as well as his skill with dialogue and awkward situations. At the heart of VENGEANCE however is an ambition to stretch out from the field that has worked out so well for him in the past.


As well as writing and directing, Novak takes on the lead role of Ben, a journalist striving to get into podcasting with a vague idea for a series about the connections and divides in modern day America. Against a backdrop of parties and meaningless hook-ups, Ben receives a call in the middle of the night from the grief-stricken brother of one of these late-night conquests he barely remembers. Told that Abilene, who seemingly had much stronger feelings for Ben than he did for her, Ben is then persuaded to attend her funeral. All the way down, deep in the heart of Texas. It is here that Ben stumbles on an idea for his podcast when Abilene’s brother Ty, tells him that his sister was murdered and enlists Ben in his search for justice. While expecting a land of gun carrying, Stetson wearing cowboys and cowgirls, Ben is more surprised by the sense of loyalty and honest down to earth philosophy of the residents as he looks into the suspicious death of the woman who seemingly thought so much of him.


This is a film of two parts that do not quite connect as a cohesive whole. As expected from Novak’s past credits there is no shortage of laughs, not least through the dialogue; (“How do you take your coffee? “Uh, through the mouth!”) and the culture clash aspect is sketched out well enough to avoid the usual fish out of water cliches. The most surprising example of this being Ashton Kutcher’s excellent supporting turn as a small-town record producer who catches Ben out in a winningly philosophical and disarming fashion. There is a sudden lurch in tone however towards the end of the film that seems at odds with what has come before. While it could be commended for its mercilessness the script has not made enough work for this sudden turn to feel truly earned while the conceit of the cultural divides in modern American life is abandoned for something altogether more simple and far less satisfying.


There could be another reading of the film that the title is the one thing that drives us all in the end but again it feels largely unexplored here and more of a missed opportunity. Despite these flaws however this manages to entertain with its lighter aspects and excellent performances, particularly Holbrook proving his comedic skills effortlessly as loyal brother and friend Ty. It is also heartening to see Novak try out for something darker and more ambitious than expected of him. Hopefully his future work will see him stick the landing with more rewarding results next time around.


Iain MacLeod.


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Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans