BJ “They call me little man?” Novak continues his steady transformation into a Jewish Peter Lorre. This would be an adequate joke, except for the fact that Peter Lorre was Jewish.
So it is with Novak’s Vengeance. The film takes the idea that people groups are different…but maybe not so different after all.
Vengeance is a fish-out-of-water story. A New Yorker travels to Texas to solve a murder. Grounded on this simple but sturdy plotline, the film ends up surprisingly layered. It’s comical, emotional, political, sociological, and philosophical. Preachy would fit among those adjectives, as well, as easily as plausible deniability and an Epstein Island visit, but Novak avoids low-hanging fruit.
Novak plays the New Yorker in question. He is a writer who wants to break into podcasting. In his spare time, he engages in meaningless relationships with meaningless women and talks about inane subjects with his best friend, John Mayer. Novak thinks he’s got things figured out “100 percent,” even though the net value of his life hovers around zero.
This changes when one of Novak’s flings, played by Lio Tipton, overdoses in Texas. I’ve never seen a Lio Tipton movie in my life, and suddenly, I’ve seen two in two months (Compulsion review here). While the relationship was meaningless to Novak, Tipton told her family that Novak was her boyfriend. Upon her death, Tipton’s family reaches out to Novak to attend the funeral.
Novak has no interest in going, but then he sees the story potential of the situation. It’s a chance to travel to Texas and make a podcast that makes fun of backward rural folk. If people are meaningless, it’s easy to be mean.
Once Novak arrives in Texas, he falls in with Tipton’s brother, played by Boyd Holbrook, who is probably still ashamed of The Predator. Holbrook doesn’t believe his sister died of an overdose. He believes she was murdered, and he wants Novak to help him avenge her death.
Can’t you call 911?
In Texas…we don’t dial 911.
Not even for a fire?
Okay, maybe a fire…
This sets Novak off on a journey where he bonds with Tipton’s family (Dove Cameron, Isabella Amara, J. Smith-Cameron, and Eli Bickel), meets a philosophical record producer (Ashton Kutcher), runs into a local drug dealer (Zack Villa) and culture clashes with his surroundings, including committing the cardinal sin of cheering for Texas State rather than Texas Tech.
All in all, it plays out as if Raymond Chandler was a blogger.
Novak comes from a TV background as an actor and writer on the well-regarded Office, which has been seen by roughly 113 percent of the human population. I imagine this gave Novak great experience with plotting and dialogue, as TV shows follow a rigid formula, and Office performers spit out witty banter with the best of them.
The skills Novak developed translate pretty well to feature-length films. The story of Vengeance is decently constructed, but it does lose energy in the second half. Novak’s direction is also serviceable but bland. Nevertheless, likeable characters balance off these cons, and the proceedings contain juuuuust enough humor, mystery and philosophy to keep the viewer engaged.
Vengeance has quite a lot to say about social matters in a social media world. At times, it gets a bit on the nose, but we live in an era of vapid entertainment. Novak deserves credit for attempting to have a point and reach people across the aisle. For the most part, Novak succeeds. New Yorkers and Texans are both mocked and given due when merited.
The ending of Vengeance, while not earth-shattering, is also worth noting. It could have went a simple gotcha route, and it gave all appearances of doing just that, but then Novak pushed the envelope a bit further and gave the ending more punch than expected. When all is said and done, his character might be a New Yorker, but he had some good ol’ boy in him, after all.
Despite being an effective film, Vengeance only made $4.4 million at the box office. Surely, that’s flop territory. Regardless, people fail upward in Hollywood all the time. Hopefully, Novak does, as well. He might have more to say. Good job, temp.
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