Vengeance (2022): a film review

I was hooked viewing the trailer. It looked funny/goofy/creative. My first inclination was to wait until it streamed to view it, then I decided to go to a matinee and see it in the theater. The film’s main actor, B.J. Novak, had a familiar face, but I could not place him in anything I had seen. I know now, he’s a successful writer/producer/director/actor on TV and in film. I don’t get out much, so how was I to know?

Novak in The Office.
Novak in The Mindy Project.
Novak with Brad Pitt in Inglorious Bastards.
Novak in Saving Mr. Banks.

When I presented the ticket at the theater, the usher said, “You’ll really like this film. It’s different.” Good to know.

I sat for awhile in an empty theater and thought I’d have a private viewing, but then about ten people came in. In the opening credits, I learned that B.J. Novak not only was the lead actor, he co-produced, and wrote and directed. Busy guy.

The main cast of Vengeance.

Outside of Ashton Kutcher, I had no idea of the cast. Didn’t know any of the creative talent except for the guy from Punk’d and That 70’s Show. I was taking a chance. So be it.

Vengeance was a pleasant surprise. The film had a twisty plot and a quirky cast for a murder mystery. Not exactly Hitchcock, more like Woody Allen.

Novak plays Ben, a writer for The New Yorker, who seems most interested in ideas for stories and getting his pencil sharpened.

He gets a late night call from someone claiming to be the brother of a woman he barely remembers hooking up with a few times. He’s guilted into traveling from New York to nowhere Texas for the funeral. Her family believes Ben was her boyfriend.

The brother, again guilts Ben into believing that his sister (Abby) was murdered rather than dying of an opioid overdose. Ben suddenly sees the tracking of her supposed killer as a way to create a murder-mystery podcast, which gets the support of his boss. So begins unraveling the mystery of who might have killed Abby, and just who Abby was.

The film takes many unexpected turns and reveals a lot about Abby, her family, those who knew her, and Ben. I won’t spoil the mystery by giving away too much of the plot.

Novak recruits a top-notch cast of actors, who mostly play Texans, full of stereotypes, but not quite what you expect in the end. Of course, Novak infuses satire into the dramatic elements, making points about social media, drug addiction, the shallowness of dating, law enforcement, and the danger of taking people at face value.

At times, the film veers into preachiness, with Novak’s dialogue striding to make social commentary and telling you something that might be better integrated into the story. Of all the characters, Kutcher’s role is the best. I’m not a big Kutcher fan, but he sinks his teeth into this character and turns in a surprisingly good performance. The other impressive character is the state of Texas, providing the opportunity for a lot of humor.

I liked this film and found much more than I bargained for with my ticket. I now how who B.J. Novak is and will look for his other projects.

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