B.J. Novak’s directorial debut boasts an intriguing, modern day story that is skillfully directed and superbly acted, but the engaging mystery completely falls apart in a third act, subverting the momentum established early.
When Ben (Novak) travels to Texas for the funeral of a woman he barely knows after hooking up with her, his journalistic instincts take hold when there seems to be more to her death than meets the eye. Novak’s script is entertaining and smartly timed, capitalizing both on the rapid rise in true crime podcasts over the past few years and the growing disparities between states such as Texas and the rest of the country. Its humor straddles the line between hilarity and cringe, rarely not mixing the two and resulting in a rather unique “fish out of water” story. Boyd Holbrook, Dove Cameron, Issa Rae, and Ashton Kutcher help round out the talented cast and aid in delivering a refined first film for Novak, known largely for his work on The Office. It helps that you have Rae sort of quarterbacking the whole thing in a role that serves as a guidepost for Novak’s Ben. The pacing complements Vengeance’s tone while some of the visual shots help transport the audience to the locale. For a first outing, Novak shows a lot of promise both with the pen and behind the camera.
The third act simply didn’t work for me. While the mystery at the core of the film is never quite so simple to figure out, the reveal is made as apart of a larger confluence of thematic messaging that leads to, in my opinion, an unbelievable action. Whereas the first two-thirds of Vengeance were thoughtful and well-delivered, giving you a lot to think about, the climax seems out of place and the ensuing scenes bring the film to a strange finale. It’s almost as if Novak was trying to do too much, but didn’t have the time to establish the emotional connection needed in order for it all to pay off. Still, Vengeance is an engaging watch that leaves me excited for what’s to come from Novak.
Vengeance hits theaters this Friday.
Photo from IMDb