Review by Mark Schwab
December 8th, 2015
Joseph Pepitone's THE JERSEY DEVIL has a really original plot fueling it - Lucifer/Satan/the Prince of Darkness has ruled Hell for centuries but now is being term-limited out, forcing him to turn over the reigns to one James Burnett (Keith Collins). James feels that Hell needs re-branding and a new slogan ("The Chuch of Ultimate Satisfaction!") to revitalize its image. It also needs a new location which James feels should be...New Jersey. So armed with the new slogan and his acolytes, James attempts to set up the New Hell in New Jersey like Gordon Gekko might set up a new Bluestar Airlines. The problem is the original Lucifer is pissed off at being forced out (they even retire his official jersey - #666 of course) and will do everything he can to foil James' plans.
Honestly, this is a truly inspired idea. So ripe for satire and commentary on today's corporate insanity - a great groundwork for comedy. The problem with the film for me was that it shoots so low and so desperately in its comedic tone. The beginning of the movie was especially tough to get through as it takes over 30 minutes to finally get to the plot decision of actually moving Hell to New Jersey. Those first 30 minutes feature a very long and problematic ceremony scene where Lucifer must offically turn over the reigns to James. The scene takes place in a movie theatre where almost no one has bothered to show up (no reason for that is given) and we watch cast members really mugging and chewing scenery on the stage trying to keep the energy level up and it just wasn't working. Worse than that, it just wasn't funny. I started to almost feel bad for them and worried about the rest of the film. It was a tough start and could have used the editing eye to cut it down significantly.
But once we get out of all that the film perks up. At least pacing - wise as we start to see James' "business plan" for Hell get into motion. The jokes, pop-culture references, and characters quoting from other movies come fast and furious even though most of them are pretty high school level (i.e. two characters start playing The Penis Game at one point - if you don't know what it is, just look it up in Urban Dictionary) or obvious (James knocks on the door of a apartment and a slutty/willing Miss Jones answers and invites him in...get it?...The Devil in Ms. Jones...ho ho ho). Suffice to say, this isn't exactly Noel Coward.
There are some positives though. Most impressively, Director Pepitone has assembled a solid cast with impressive previous credits (it was great seeing Chris Mulkey here - "Hank" from TWIN PEAKS) who are clearly game for the material. Edvin Ortega and Penelope Lagos do very good work in particular and even share a nice budding relationship chemistry although sometimes this is almost a distraction since they play the material pretty straightforward which doesn't always fit with the sub-Farrelly Brothers style fart and sex jokes.
Looking at THE JERSEY DEVIL in the context of an indie film, I admit that my attention was held the entire time (despite a few eye-rolls), I did giggle at least once or twice, the cast was fun to watch (most of them anyway), and it did look like everyone involved was genuinely trying to simply entertain and have some laughs. It's certainly WAY funnier than the pathetic cash grab (or attempt) that was DUMB AND DUMBER 2. Get some friends together, crack open some beers, drink the beers (very important step), and then put in the DVD - you'll probably have a good enough time.