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Flix at :48: 'Vengeance' takes itself too seriously

A poster for "Vengeance" features a collage of people including actor B.J. Novak wearing a headset, actor Issa Rae and several others. The background of the poster is a beige color that evokes a desert feel.
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B.J. Novak from the American TV series "The Office" (2005 - 2013) has written, directed and executive produced the new release "Vengeance" about a complacent, self-absorbed journalist in New York City who visits middle-of-nowhere Texas to attend the funeral of a girl he barely remembers hooking up with.

The funeral introduces the journalist to the dead girl's family of shallow-minded, bumpkin hicks who think the girl died of a mysterious murder and not the reported drug overdose. So the high-brow New Yorker decides to investigate this possible murder mystery and soon realizes it offers great material for a podcast series. Anyone who's hip with the times today knows nothing offers fame and fortune like a true crime podcast.

Don't ask me why this film's title is "Vengeance," because there's nothing hostile or rancorous about it. A more indicative title would probably be "Self-Righteous Analysis of Society Through Podcast or Invisible Humor." In an attempt to be a deadpan, comfortably relatable comedy layered with everyday wisdom, it ends up being a mundane timid indictment of urban civilization vs. rural life. ("Vengeance" tries to be relatable by building its story around topical things like podcasts, social media and the constant yearning for celebrity.)

I felt bored through so much of this film, because everyone's performance is so intently serious. Yes, much of the dialogue has jokes that are delivered through effective timing. But almost all the jokes come from the easiest and lowest hanging fruit possible, so nothing is surprising or special. Boyd Holbrook ("In the Shadow of the Moon," 2019) as a loud, emphatic, gun-loving cowboy appears to be the only one having any fun. It almost felt like B.J. Novak was directing the film by saying, "This is a serious message we're sending to the world, everyone. So don't play up the funny parts. Viewers need to know the depth of what we're showing them."

Using a podcast to highlight the cultural divides in our country, and then using a bland murder mystery to reveal deep human insight, is not a terrible idea. (Plenty of movies out there have worked with worse or less interesting ideas.) I just wish "Vengeance" was written with more authenticity and less of an affected, quietly proud intelligence. It felt somewhat like B.J. Novak tried hard to write something funny and accessible for the masses, but he couldn't get out of his own head filled with thoughts on Texas, media, the opioid crisis, conservative stereotypes and philosophies of life and death.

Casey T. Allen is a native of Utah who graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor's degree in English in 2007. He has worked in many capacities throughout USU campus and enjoys his time at UPR to continually exercise his writing.