Teenage strangers are connected in "Do Revenge" by a train that runs out of steam.
'Do Revenge,' a Netflix film starring Maya Hawke and Camila Mendes.
"Do Revenge" has all the makings of a hit, mixing a "Mean Girls" atmosphere with the stars of two successful teen series in Camila Mendes ("Riverdale") and Maya Hawke ("Riverdale") ("Stranger Things"). Unfortunately, the Netflix film falls short of those expectations, presenting a jumble of homages that is slightly entertaining but falls short of the mark.
The most obvious influence in this second film from director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (Netflix's "Someone Great") is Alfred Hitchcock's oft-copied "Strangers on a Train," in which a pair of high-school students meet, realize they have simmering grudges against different people, and discuss the possibility of banding together to exact revenge on them.
However, the storyline (based on a script by Robinson and Celeste Ballard) doesn't follow that tempting potential with much conviction, which may explain why it loses steam near the end. The film also owes a lot to other juvenile entertainment, such as "Cruel Intentions," which was based on the French novel that became "Dangerous Liaisons."
It's mostly a narrative of unusual friendships set against the backdrop of another privileged school where the parties make Roman bacchanals look controlled and pale in contrast. The ensemble also includes actors from other series who are becoming a touch too old to portray high-school students any longer, such as Austin Abrams ("Euphoria"), Alisha Boe ("13 Reasons Why"), and Sophie Turner in a disarmingly modest appearance ("Game of Thrones").
Mendes' Drea, despite being a scholarship student in this sphere of riches and luxury, is the queen bee at the top of the social strata, despite being described as "two wounded warriors on the battlefield of adolescence." She is enraged by her gorgeous ex-boyfriend Max (Abrams), who leaked an explicit recording of her, while Hawke's Eleanor is enraged by a girl who made a false complaint against her while revealing her.
"In this narrative, nothing is as it seems," Drea says in voiceover towards the beginning, which should foreshadow the twists to follow as she and Eleanor alternate as narrators, which works until, near the conclusion, it doesn't.
Netflix has made a fortune from the adolescent category, with everything from romance to thrillers, including past programs that put fresh spins on classic stories like "Cyrano de Bergerac." However, "Do Revenge" begins on that route before taking a huge detour – a method that isn't horrible in principle but falls short in actuality.
Granted, casting is certainly half the fight, and Mendes and Hawke get a decent showcase, albeit one that doesn't stray too far from their series identities.
However, "Do Revenge" isn't about breaking rules, but rather about adding a new twist to what has become an established formula. It does this, although for a film in which the protagonists frequently discuss their Ivy League ambitions, it falls more into the safety-school category.
"Do Revenge" launches on Netflix on September 16.