In Vengeance, BJ Novak’s character from “The Office” travels to a remote Texas town to pretend to investigate the death (murder?) of a girl he once hooked up with but otherwise doesn’t remember. Not really funny, not quite a thriller, and certainly no drama, Novak, in his feature-length directorial debut, delivers a mildly alluring little story but also one that by not fitting cleanly into any one genre, doesn’t really make much of a mark.
Novak is amusing enough, though his character’s smug, flippant demeanor makes him about as likable of a protagonist as he was in the aforementioned TV show. His surrounding cast, a bunch of colorful Texan characters played by the likes of Boyd Holbrook and Ashton Kutcher, nearly make up for his deficiencies.
But does Novak, who also wrote the movie, tap into the idiosyncrasies of these people to the degree he needed to bring such an odd little story to life? Vengeance fires in bursts; Novak has a few scenes that land perfectly. An early scene where Ben (Novak) attempts to navigate what to say to the family of his deceased “girlfriend” is pretty funny, and another where he interviews them about Whataburger is pointed. In both, I’ll draw attention to Dove Cameron, who is given extremely limited screen time but seems to relish in the opportunity.
Overall, Vengeance is an easy watch; Novak maintains a solid pace throughout, mixing mystery with other genre elements. While I hold that Novak would have been better served to play up the comedy, or the suspense, or whatever, the movie does benefit slightly from its unpredictably; you’re never sure whether you’re actually watching a murder mystery or just a movie about a big-city guy creating a podcast about a small-town family that thinks one of their own was murdered.
But in the end, there simply isn’t enough here to thoroughly enjoy. It’s a cute little film, but very little sticks with much tenacity. Certainly not with vengeance.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.