- CAPITAL PUNISHMENT Wexler’s debt collection comedy comes up short in every conceivable respect.
Try to imagine Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street without the Quaaludes, coke, morphine, pep pills, pep talks, martinis, penthouses, mansions, pool parties, Ferraris, private helicopters, yachts, hookers, orgies, Swiss bank accounts, international intrigue, scams, lions, snakes, roller-skating chimps, flying little people, lingerie, out-of-bounds comic debauchery or swaggering mendacity. Imagine a movie about a fast-talking hustler without any of those things or anything compelling to take their place. Then try to imagine a single reason why you'd want to see it.
That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Buffaloed. Director Tanya Wexler (Hysteria) hasn't made a feature film in nearly a decade. When interviewed, she's consistently maintained that this is the result of sexist hiring practices. Based on everything I endured for the 95 minutes of this movie, however, I maintain the explanation may be somewhat simpler. There's just the slightest chance she's not a particularly gifted director.
The up-and-coming actress Zoey Deutch stars as Peg Dahl, a young woman who makes Jordan Belfort look like Mahatma Gandhi. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., she's dreamed from her earliest days of getting rich and getting out of town. (Real-life residents will no doubt give the picture a big thumbs-down owing to its portrait of the place as a festering, economically depressed hellhole.) How money-hungry is she? Accepted by an Ivy League college, Peg decides student debt is for suckers and prints up a batch of counterfeit Buffalo Bills tickets to scalp in broad daylight outside the stadium. Until (surprise!) police catch her in the act and throw her in jail.
Upon her release three years later, Peg finds herself with nearly $30,000 in legal bills and zilch in the way of professional prospects. All that changes one day when a call from a debt collector leads to an aha moment. Figuring she's a born salesman and debt collection is essentially phone sales, Peg barges into the office of the agency that just called her and pretty much demands to be given a shot.
What happens next is straight out of Scorsese's film. Except that, instead of talking losers into buying penny stocks they can't afford, as Belfort did, Peg shamelessly manipulates and lies to strangers to get them to make payments on old bills they can't afford, even if that means taking advantage of an elderly widow's dementia. Are we having fun yet?
It gets grimmer. Our insufferably spunky heroine's decision to start her own collection company earns her the murderous wrath of her boss, Wizz. He's an over-the-top cartoon sleazeball played by Jai Courtney, who gives the impression of channeling Andrew Dice Clay. The movie's idea of entertainment is Wizz attempting to intimidate Peg by dumping a bucket of menstrual blood all over her as she sits on a public toilet. To be fair, the film also features a great many jokes involving Buffalo wings, which are every bit as unfunny.
The blame for this exercise in pointlessness can be allotted fairly equally, I think, between Wexler and screenwriter/cast member Brian Sacca. He should have had a better sense of how to pen a rip-off of The Wolf of Wall Street, considering he played one of the Wall Streeters in it.
Nonetheless, his script is a relentlessly grating, fun-free affair. It's Sacca's first stab at a feature screenplay. Audiences can only hope it proves his last. If so, every one of us will truly be in his debt.