The combined household debt in the United States currently sits at somewhere around $15 trillion — not a fact that many can turn into the start of something genuinely funny. Some credit, then is due to Tanya Wexler, who has turned the American addiction to debt into a 95-minute joyride called Buffaloed.

Buffaloed stars Zoey Deutch as Peggy Dahl, a canny child of Lake Erie who often proves too smart for her own good. After various attempts at getting into an Ivy League university, professionally scalping tickets, and cornering a local prison’s cigarette market go awry, Peggy picks up work as a debt collector. Her aptitude for collecting debt suits her success-hungry well, but an obstinate boss and some mild questions as to the morality of her work inspire her to start her own debt collecting agency.

While the premise of the film is certainly inspired, much of the plot itself tends towards the derivative. Buffaloed is the latest in an illustrious line of crime films that begin in medias res before telling a story of the meteoric rise and precipitous fall of a good-hearted protagonist who helpfully narrates the entire thing for us. At it’s worst, the film can feel like a low-stakes Goodfellas with a far less natural sense of humor and a smaller soundtrack budget.

At its best, though, Buffaloed is a showcase of its star’s severely under-sung talents. Deutch absolutely commands the screen and sells some of the film’s shakier material like it’s Bernard Shaw. Peggy is as likable as she is morally confused, and this combination makes watching her always interesting — there’s something particularly refreshing about being able to actively root both for and against a character. Though the script is decidedly uneven, Deutch’s commitment to her character gives the film a continuity it likely would not have had otherwise.

Wexler’s direction is also something to behold, with the film remarkably maintaining a high degree of watchability amid its all-gas-no-brakes pacing and whiplash edits. As the movie nears its conclusion, it attempts to make a dangerous and not entirely successful shift from comedy to agitprop, inciting its audience against the injustice of debt collectors. While more than a few moments in this section will elicit eye rolls rather than cheers, the steady hand of Wexler gives it all a much-needed smirk.

If I’ve failed to mention the supporting cast, it’s because the film nearly mandated. Judy GreerJermaine Fowler and Jai Courtney all put in acceptable performances as figures in Peggy’s whirlwind, but none is given a character with nearly enough depth to register. The film is Deutch’s all the way, and she rises to the challenge.

Buffaloed plays a bit too fast and loose with its knowing brand of comedy to deliver the punch it wants to, but the film still manages to set an appropriately curated, if a bit uninspired, stage for its star to shine — and shine she does.

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