Tribeca 2012: ‘Revenge for Jolly!’ unpolished but undeniably entertaining

Revenge for Jolly!
Written by Brian Pestos
Directed by Chadd Harbold
USA, 2012

Revenge for Jolly! carries with it the promise of a clever premise. It involves the gruesome rampage of two homicidal young people out to avenge the unjust murder of an innocent loved one. The twist here: the innocent loved one is a dog. Pet lovers everywhere can probably relate. On several points, this revenge fantasy delivers a highly enjoyable experience. However, it also conveys a nagging impression of a potentially hilarious script rushed to screen slightly before it was ready.

One mark in the film’s favor is the lead actors’ choice to play their parts totally straight. Brian Pestos’ dead-eyed portrayal of Harry, the wronged party and vengeance seeker, convincingly embodies the trope of a man on the edge with nothing left to lose. His cousin, played by Oscar Isaac, is no less amoral, a little more alcoholic, and so devoted to his buddy that he participates in senseless killing after killing all in the name of Jolly the miniature pinscher. The offbeat chemistry between these two is one of the film’s biggest rewards.

Of course, this juxtaposition of total disregard for human life and an exaggerated reverence for a domestic animal is an exercise in absurdity, but there’s a fine line between absurdity and complete nonsense, and occasionally, this film steps out of bounds. Elijah Wood is the first to reap the consequences of treating Jolly’s heinous murder dismissively. And in that context, the extremeness of Harry’s reaction plays as hysterical, but afterwards, the joke gets stale. and there’s not enough back story to make Harry’s emotional turmoil entirely credible.

Furthermore, one gets the feeling this script merely follows conventions rather than making them work for the action. For instance, Harry’s voiceover matches the tone of the film, but his exposition frequently sounds hollow and obvious to the viewer. Goodfellas, this ain’t.

But perhaps the script’s biggest misfire rests in the progression of the action. Even as the violence escalates and the body count piles up, nothing raises the stakes. Obstacles barely present themselves before Harry blows them away. This hardly detracts in terms of pacing, but in retrospect, people are bound to notice it as an opportunity missed to wrack up the tension.

Despite these pitfalls, Revenge for Jolly! is distinctively entertaining. It has in its corner a very impressive catalogue of comedic actors (including Kristin Wiig, Gillian Jacobs, and Adam Brody, among others), and they bolster the production value with moments of berserk antics and intense energy. It also offers a consistent stream of laughs, two barbaric but charming anti-heroes, and the most outrageous excuse for shameless brutality that nearly anyone can get behind. For those who like to mix their dark comedy with over-the-top action, this film was made with you in mind.

Kenneth Broadway

Visit the Tribeca Film Festival site

By Kenneth

For Kenneth Broadway, one bachelor’s degree wasn’t enough.  So after the four grueling years it took to earn his B.A. in English and three years more trying to figure out something to do with it, he ignored the prudent advice of some very erudite professors who encouraged him to go to grad school and instead enrolled in a film program at Full Sail University.  Fast forward two years and he has emerged a film school graduate knowing a little more about a lot of different facets of filmmaking, and more importantly, he knows more than ever what he knew when he entered film school in the first place.  He wants to tell stories for a living.  His academic life having revolved around books and movies, nothing thrills Kenneth more than a good literary adaptation (see Amadeus, The Remains of the Day, and The Lord of the Rings for examples).  A little magic in his movies makes him happy.  But you can keep your heavy-handed special effects; he will choose a quiet, anecdotal premise over explosive senselessness any day. In his spare time, he writes or he watches movies or he writes about watching movies, and that’s what brought him to Sound on Sight.

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