Kudos to Brian Petsos, a bit actor who has pulled off an Orson Welles-level achievement in not only nabbing a brilliant cast to star in “Revenge For Jolly!” which he wrote, but also having the clout to save the lead role for himself. Welles did this with his talent, vision and status as a cinematic titan. Petsos, if we’re being charitable, most likely had to resort to blackmail, extortion and/or just plain bribery, as “Revenge For Jolly!” may be the most excruciating 80+ minutes you spend in a theater this year.
Petsos plays Harry, an organized crime underling who has upset the wrong people. One such person comes to his house while Harry is away and ritualistically murders his precious dog, Jolly, whom we are led to believe was the only thing keeping Harry away from the precipice of despair. Harry is familiar, of course; a rangy, mumbly Jeremy Davies-type, though Petsos gives this lunkhead a gaunt, worried visage and slicked-back long hair, topped off with his thick-lipped perma-frown as if Tommy Wiseau was dosed with Joker products from “Batman.”
Harry finds brief relief from wayward cousin Cecil (Oscar Isaac, why?), who encourages Harry’s plan to stockpile a small arsenal of weapons and find the guilty party. Each stop, populated by a bevy of respectable actors, plays out roughly the same. Harry and Cecil, already drunk and/or high, wave their guns around like idiots and demand answers, everyone makes irrelevant small-talk, guns are fired, and the two leave a stack of bodies behind. It was likely copied and pasted several times in the script: ‘HARRY walks out the door, leaving behind fresh corpses.’
Director Chadd Harbold must have added the extra “d” for deliberation, since his favorite directing tool seems to be the pregnant pause. Characters communicate as if they were in a David Lynch movie, and Harbold keeps the camera running to capture the unusual beats between sentences as if he were mining gold out of nothing. Except there’s nothing all that extraordinary about these characters or what they have to say. Elijah Wood’s bartender must produce the slowest service in town. Gillian Jacobs’ prostitute must only see two johns a day at most. It’s a way of giving a fresh spin to what are essentially revenge movie staples, but it doesn’t add substance, rather it subtracts, illuminating just how tiresome these characters can be.
The one promising moment is when Harry and Cecil find themselves at an after-hours law firm, where each shiny suited lawyer slowly walks out one-by-one to lecture the information-seeking stoners on why they should leave. First, “SNL” vet Bobby Moynihan emerges from a back room, then a long-haired Adam Brody, both dropping non-sequiturs and threats while Cecil reads a women’s health magazine, and Harry, in his default position, stares off into space. There’s a kernel of surreal inspiration to this idea of gaudy after-hours lawyers packing heat, though the head of the firm (the peerless David Rasche) emerges with none of the affectations of his co-workers, and another gory shootout occurs. Somehow this was all written, though it all seems improvised on the spot. Well, except for ‘HARRY walks out the door, leaving behind fresh corpses.’
Their bloody rampage, which at no point involves cops, eventually takes the duo to a wedding, providing the film’s violent climax though it’s clear all scenes could be re-edited together in just about any fashion. Here, Kristen Wiig, coming off an Oscar nomination for “Bridesmaids,” is degraded by being put in a wedding dress, having her posterior spanked by Garret Dillahunt, getting to shout non-comedic obscenities and having a couple of teeth punched out of her mouth. Kevin Corrigan gets the only laugh of the movie during a rambling drunken wedding speech, and it is an oasis in the desert.
The Tribeca press pack promises “there is never a dull moment” in “Revenge For Jolly!” which seems to be a new definition of the word “dull.” There are three types of scenes in this film, alternating between each other like a nightmarish merry-go-round. One involves lots of quick cuts, screaming and vulgarity. Another involves shared gunfire, mostly emerging from actors who appear to have never held a gun before. And the third, and most common, involves long silences of characters standing around, seemingly occupying dead space as if they were given no direction, no motivation, and no character to play, which seems somewhat accurate when observing the finished product. That last one? Yeah, sure sounds like dull to me. [F]