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.
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