The Reel Review
A New York City podcaster heads to a small town in West Texas after a former hookup is found dead in a remote oil field from an opioid overdose. Initially planning to make a humorous podcast about her grieving family’s seemingly paranoid suspicions about her death, he soon finds himself wondering if maybe those suspicions are correct, in this dark comedy/mystery starring, written and directed by B.J. Novak (The Office).
Set to a West Texas backdrop of Whataburger fast food restaurants, oil field pumpjacks and country line dancing, Novak’s film directorial debut at first appears to be a quirky political satire about red state America’s obsession with wild conspiracy theories, celebrity and a mistrust of government. But he also turns the camera inward, poking fun at condescending blue state liberals, the currently popular podcast trend, and their propensity for exploitive stories about the less fortunate.
Boyd Holbrook (The Cursed), J. Smith-Cameron (Succession), Dove Cameron (Schmigadoon!) and Ashton Kutcher round out the supporting cast of colorful, quirky, and some cases, truly endearing Texans, with an underutilized Issa Rae as the New York City podcast producer. There are several clever and funny moments, although the film’s uneven tonal shifts – in particular, a jarring, completely out-of-left-field finalé – keep Novak from really sticking the landing. Still, the film’s introspective message – about how people of different backgrounds can form emotional bonds when they stop pigeonholing one another and start truly getting to know one another – is well done.
• B.J. Novak became known for starring as Ryan Howard in the NBC sitcom The Office, for which he also served as a writer, executive producer and director.
• That’s singer-songwriter John Mayer playing the role of a fellow cringeworthy himbo in one of the film’s opening scenes with Novak.
• Although set in West Texas, Vengeance was filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico.