B.J. Novak might be a name not many people are familiar with, but he’s actually been around in the business of acting and directing for a while now. He’s most famous for his role in the NBC sitcom The Office from 2005-2013, where he played Ryan Howard, but he also had a small role in the Quentin Tarantino Film Inglorious Basterds. In his latest project, Vengeance, he writes, directs, and stars for Focus Features.
Ben Manoalowitz (B.J. Novak) is a man who is trying to find himself. He is a journalist and fledgling podcaster in New York. One morning, he gets a call from Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook), the brother of an old flame, saying she died and he needs to come to Texas for her funeral. When he gets there, he gets the idea of starting a podcast investigating her death. He enlists the help of a friend back in New York, Eloise (Issa Rae), who has experience producing podcasts.
Novak’s character starts to get to know the family of Abilene (Leo Tipton), and he quickly realizes that this town is not a big place and the people in it aren’t that hard to figure out. He started questioning the locals, such as two law officers with no interest in the case, a local small-time music producer (Ashton Kutcher), and some cartel members. Everyone seemed to like this woman. But that leaves the big question: why would anyone kill such a nice girl that everyone in town liked?
Novak relies on his dry sense of humor in this film, and most of the characters have a similar sense about them. He tries to ingratiate himself with the family, which is his way of getting them to open up about their sister/daughter. He becomes a part of the family in a way when in actuality, he barely knew the woman in question. They take him in like he’s one of their own, but they harbor a big secret. In fact, this entire backwater Texas town does.
Novack’s filmmaking style and storyline aren’t necessarily the best. It leaves something to be desired. The camera work isn’t all that special, and the story was predictable. He relies on some famous friends to help him in the film, like cameos from John Mayer and such, to get the audience to the fact that this film is slow and plotting and doesn’t say anything about these people we couldn’t figure out from the very beginning of the film. He needs work in his writing and directing characters; his own character isn’t all that interesting either. He is pretty dull.
Vengeance is one of those films where a somewhat notable actor decided to go out on their own and test the waters to see if they could make something people would like. The fact of the matter is this film is slow and plods along like a snail, and the characters, especially Novak’s, are uninteresting to watch and listen to. Although a decent effort by Novak and company, the movie is all over the place in terms of tone and quality. I’d say he should go back to sitcoms where he’s safer in his environment.
Dan Skip Allen
Sean Boelman Founder/EIC disappointment media