Harry (Brian Petsos) is a minor criminal of some sort, describing himself in voice-over as "not a bad guy," without elaborating further. One day -- a "bad day for business," he informs the audience -- he returns home from dinner with his cousin Cecil (Oscar Isaac) and his girlfriend to discover his beloved dog, Jolly, has been brutally murdered, likely as thanks for a botched job that had Harry plotting to skip town. Emotionally devastated and brimming with rage, Harry returns to Cecil's house and enlists him on nothing less than a straight-up revenge mission to find the man who killed his beloved pet and return the favor.
Revenge For Jolly! is the newest entry in a growing trend: the low-key, low-budget, beneath-the-radar production populated with a cast of familiar face, the kind of movie people will see on the shelf at the local video store and wonder why they haven't heard of it. It's the kind of thing actors write in their free time and then enlist other actors to be in it, something they can shoot quickly without a lengthy time commitment. The ensemble here includes Elijah Wood, Adam Brody, Gillian Jacobs, Bobby Moynihan, Kevin Corrigan, David Rasche, Garret Dillahunt, Ryan Phillippe, and Kristen Wiig, all filling small pieces in a pretty simple puzzle.
The good news first: Jolly! does not join a long, embarrassing line of tired, overwrought Tarantino knock-offs. In fact, the movie takes the opposite tactic, going for a minimal amount of dialogue and plot mechanics: Harry and Cecil find someone who might know who whacked the dog, interrogate them for the name and location of the next person in the chain, kill a bunch of people, and then leave. The movie has a laid-back attitude, extracting its flashes of successful humor from simple observations and small moments. It's hit-and-miss in equal measure: the film is basically an 84-minute string of violent, subdued comedy sketches that are too short and simplistic to generate much tension, but at least the film never drags or gets stuck in tangents about characters that aren't designed to be emotionally invested in.
The tone, however, is less successful. On the page, the script (written by Petsos) probably seemed funnier, but director Chadd Harbold can't quite find the sweet spot between the light and the dark. Harry and Cecil's cavalier attitude toward murdering people is supposed to be darkly funny, but the film has a naturalistic style, generating sympathy for the victims that should either be countered by making the targets appear less like innocent victims or by exaggerating Harry and Cecil further. One of the film's biggest scenes has Harry and Cecil crashing a wedding, and the whole situation feels too real and unwarranted for their actions to be amusing; the previous interrogation, in an office with a trio of smug lawyers, provides a much better premise for dark comedy.
Petsos and Oscar make for a good team. Oscar, often given angry hard-man roles, brings a shambling, kind-hearted quality to his performance here that makes his character funnier (frequently reminding me of his doppelganger, Jake M. Johnson). Petsos makes the wise choice to underplay his character as well; although he comes off more one-note than Isaac, it's better to see an actor underplaying it as opposed to overplaying it, especially when that actor wrote the script. Sadly, it's that same script that puts the final nail in the coffin for Jolly!. Although the film sets up its resolution early on, it still feels like a total cop-out. After such a violent roller-coaster ride of a movie, especially one that struggles to make its heroes sympathetic, Petsos owes the viewer a stronger resolution.
Revenge For Jolly! lines up its star-studded cast on the cover and basically calls it a day. I suppose that is the selling point of this picture, so I can't really blame them, and at least they separated the names and the pictures with the title so my OCD doesn't get all riled up by the fact that they're not over the right people. The disc comes in a standard eco-friendly, plastic-conserving case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Sony's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen / 5.1 Dolby Digital presentation of Revenge For Jolly! is decent. The picture has a constant restriction -- the contrast -- but for the most part, it's a strong DVD transfer. Sony's home video releases always seem to go for the "gray-as-white" look in the contrast department, and this is no different. Skin tones are a little grayish, colors are subdued, and black levels are quite weak. Still, detail looks decent in close-ups, and banding is impressively minimal for a film that spends a lot of time in the dark or low light. Gunshots are loud and impactful on the audio track, and the details in the aftermath are nicely defined, down to the last little tinkling shards of glass. The score, by a band or artist called Whitey, is nicely mixed, making good use of the low end from time to time. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and English and French subtitles are also provided.
None. A promo for Blu-Ray Disc and trailers for Absolute Deception, Dead Man Down, The Last Exorcism Part II, "House of Cards" (from which, interestingly, any reference to Netflix has been removed), and Evil Dead (2013) play before the main menu. No trailer for Revenge For Jolly! has been included.
Revenge For Jolly! isn't a great movie, but it's sort of a fascinating one, filled with a talented cast in bit parts and aiming for a very subtle type of dark comedy. Curiosity value will likely fuel its success as a rental, and I'm okay with that.
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