Vengeance review – BJ Novak’s ambitious but overstuffed satire

Vengeance review – BJ Novak’s ambitious but overstuffed satire

Published July 29, 2022
Views 8

Positioning himself as the satirist we both want and need right now, the ex-Office actor and writer BJ Novak certainly deserves points for his chutzpah. And while he deserved points for very little else in his misfiring anthology series The Premise, there’s a bit more to recommend in the murky new comedy thriller Vengeance, flashes of something that hint at a future project where the end product more closely resembles what he sees on paper.

For us it’s a stopgap until he gets there, an ambitious yet overstuffed attempt to tackle an exhaustive, button-pushing list of various slices of Americana, from true crime podcasts to coastal elites to gun control to opioid addiction to the cult of celebrity to hookup culture. It’s not quite as scattershot as his aforementioned show but one still wishes he’d thrown something out to lighten the load, an unwieldy film that never quite sinks but only just keeps its head above water. It’s a directorial debut and very much feels like it, the work of someone desperate to show us both sizzle reel and mission statement but the aim is too high and so the result is less “here’s what I can do” and more “here’s what I shouldn’t try to do”.

Novak plays an obnoxious New York journalist called Ben, shown in the first scene drinking on the roof of Dumbo House with his equally obnoxious friend, played by the singer John Mayer. In a too-obvious scene-setter, the pair share inane, self-assured observations about life, agreeing with each other on everything (“100%,” they keep chanting), an early sign that Novak prefers a hammer to the face when a tap on the shoulder would do. He then pitches a podcast to a nearby producer (Issa Rae) who tells him that he needs to be less thesis, more story and less head, more heart (advice that Novak himself would be smart to remember).

His search for something more substantial coincides with a strange call: his girlfriend is dead. Except he doesn’t have a girlfriend. Instead, the brother of a woman he hooked up with a few times is under the impression that they were more committed than they were and so he finds himself, with poorly justified reasoning, travelling to a small town in Texas to attend the funeral and meet her family. He then comes upon an idea, maybe trying to find out how she died could be the podcast pitch he’s been looking for.