Basically: Doc Hollywood with a lot of talk about misinformation in 2022 plus podcasts.
Vengeance is a sneaky summer movie—I say sneaky because I barely knew about this film before seeing it. It has a throwback movie poster and title…a title that sounds hard body. Some real tough guy material. VENGEANCE! It makes you think about stuff like Death Wish or Dirty Harry or something Taylor Sheridan would make up. Yet that’s not what we get much of, at all.
We start with B.J. Novak (who also wrote and directed this film) as Ben Manalowitz, a New Yorker journalist who is a f**kboi. He’s at a party with his friend John Mayer talking real f’boi stuff about never settling down, hooking up, all that trash stuff—comparing Tinder profiles while looking too old to be acting that way. Trash lifestyle. This is upended when Ben gets a call from a man named Ty (Boyd Holbrook), who tells him his girlfriend (which is news to Ben), Abiline died in her home in Texas at a party and he needs to come down for the funeral. So Ben goes to Texas, where he learns that Ty thinks Abiline was murdered and wants Ben to help him find out who and get…wait for it…VENGEANCE.
Ben believes Ty’s theory is wild but thinks the story would make for a great podcast. So he pitches the idea to his friend and editor Eloise (Issa Rae) who agrees. Like I said before, Ben is a trash protagonist. He exploits young women for his sexual gratification and never thinks of them again. And so, even though he doesn’t even remember Abiline, he decides to exploit her death to make himself a star.
Vengeance seems to hold a liberally moderate political viewpoint, saying that people in coastal cities and those in red states aren’t that different. The nature of social media, all the bubbles we’ve formed, and the rich ruling class have divided the country’s people. Ben is a stereotypical New Yorker we’ve seen on screen many times. He’s almost like a modern take on a late-70s Woody Allen character; he’s a neurotic, white, Jewish writer who is condescending and always talks a bit too much. Ty is a Texan—he shoots, hunts, fights, and has these theories about “how things are.” Yet throughout the film, Ben learns that Ty and his family and their community are more than a stereotype. Life is slower, and people know and trust each other more. They don’t trust the police because they are ineffective—whereas Ben questions why people don’t trust the state.
Ashton Kutcher plays Quinten Sellers, a music producer who lives in Texas and ends up being the person Ben sees as his intellectual equal. Through this character, director Novak explores all the talking points you hear on YouTube video essays or NPR interviews with futurists and thought leaders about how all the tech and income inequality leads to certain behaviors appearing in society, blah blah etc. The performers in Vengeance actually pull you into each character and their stories.
I’m not going to lie, Vengeance is a Blumhouse movie so I was bracing myself for a horror-like twist but, for the most part, it primarily stays a small fish-out-of-water comedy with a tinge of darkness toward the end to wrap up its mystery. None of the visual filmmaking will impress you but it does work for this story, which is interesting and good, even if thinking about it could lead to a groan afterward.
In the End: Vengeance is a funny comedy that works as a good modern mystery even if wears its politics a bit too much on its sleeve.