There’s a line in the opening scene of Jay Baruchel’s newest film that seems to be speaking directly to viewers and reviewers. “Any time I try to do anything with any semblance of substance the critics misrepresent it completely,” says Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams). “Or members of my audience, it’s lost on them.”
He’s discussing Slasherman , his uber-violent comic book, which he’s having trouble steering to a satisfying conclusion. But he might just as easily be referring to Random Acts of Violence , which Baruchel co-wrote, directed and stars in. And which, in a strange case of life imitating art, also seems to lose its way before its brief 80 minutes are up. But then again, life imitating art is a major theme.
Baruchel plays Ezra, Todd’s best friend and manager. Together with Todd’s wife Kathy (Jordana Brewster) and assistant Aurora (Niahm Wilson), they set out from Toronto on a road trip into America to promote the latest issue of Slasherman.
The trip doesn’t go well. A bit of distracted driving almost results in a head-on collision. A radio interview turns sour when Todd learns that the host knew one of the victims of the ’80s serial killer who served as the inspiration for the comic book. And then comes the dawning realization that a new killer is taking inspiration from Todd’s work.
The result has an unexpected tone. Baruchel is known for his comic chops – his other directing credits include the sports comedy Goon: Last of the Enforcers , and an episode of Trailer Park Boys . But Random Acts doesn’t go for chuckles, and the violence in question gets quite gruesome at times. This isn’t the type of horror film where the audience cheers a beheading.
Unfortunately, neither is it the type where we care a great deal about the characters. The tension between Todd and Kathy stems from the fact that she’s working on a book about the real killer, trying to give a voice to his victims. But it feels like talking points brought to life rather than three-dimensional protagonists. Meanwhile, Baruchel’s character seems to be merely along for the ride.
And so we are left with a dark, twisted tale that I’m going to guess is trying rather awkwardly to weigh in on the debate about whether violence in the media is a cause or merely a reflection of the darker corners of society – an interesting notion, just not a particularly entertaining one. Then again, I may be misrepresenting that completely. Or maybe it’s just lost on me.
Random Acts of Violence is available in select cinemas, drive-ins and on demand on July 31.
2 stars out of 5
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020