There are two — and only two — genuinely interesting things about Scot Armstrong’s half-assed “Search Party,” a madcap comedy that tries to hit the sweet spot between the frantic bro-ness of “The Hangover” and the stunted sincerity of ‘Pineapple Express.“”1. The movie came out in the Netherlands almost 19 months ago. 2. “Silicon Valley” star Thomas Middleditch is fully nude for most of it. And not in a cutesy PG-13 kind of way, either. No, the gawky actor spends all of the second and third acts caked in cocaine and running around Mexico with his junk flapping on full display (the shorts you can see him wearing in the photo below are photoshopped on). His character is seldom on screen, but there’s no denying that Middleditch put every inch of himself into this role. It’s mystifying, then, that so little of the film’s humor is even the least bit ballsy. This is safe, hyper-conventional stuff, lazy enough to make you feel bad that Middleditch had to free willy for it.
The best thing you can say about the movie is that men have taken their pants off for less.
Middleditch plays Daniel “Nardo” Narducci, a jittery Thomas Middleditch type who’s spending his last night as an unmarried man sitting in the back of a parked van and getting high with his childhood best friends Jason (“Silicon Valley” star T.J. Miller“) and Evan (probable “Silicon Valley” watcher and possible future guest star Adam Pally). It’s all fun and games until Jason, the group’s resident man-child, gets it in his head that Nardo doesn’t really love his fiancée (Shannon Woodward) and that he’d be making a huge mistake by going through with the wedding. If dozens of recent, better comedies about white stoner bros have taught us anything, it’s that watching your friends shift into the next phase of their lives can be real scary when you’re stuck in neutral.
Naturally, Jason decides to interpret the ceremony and ruin everyone’s lives. The bride promptly flees the country in horror, absconding to a Mexican resort with both of the airplane tickets that had been purchased for her honeymoon. Nardo hightails it down there as soon as he gets wind of her whereabouts, but he’s carjacked shortly after crossing the border, stripped to his skin and left for dead on the side of a dirt road in the middle of the night. So it’s up to Jason — with the comparatively levelheaded Evan riding shotgun — to atone for his sins, race down to Mexico and save his best friend. It should only be a three-hour drive, but before you know it, Evan is drugged, laid out on a hotel room and preparing to have his kidney removed by a black market organ trafficker played by Jessica Jones (a.k.a. Krysten Ritter). Some guys just have all the luck.
From there, “Search Party” quickly devolves into a road trip that borrows from “The Hangover” but doesn’t bother constructing a clever enough story to justify its antics (Armstrong wrote “The Hangover: Part II,” which is nothing if not an accurate precursor for his directorial debut).
The film follows a simple formula that other, better movies have already exhausted: Take some relatively normal dudes, stick them in a series of crazy (and appreciably contrived) situations, make them wear funny things and then subject them to some zany acts of violence in an attempt to provoke laughter. There’s a lot of running around, and it grows tiresome pretty quickly. During one early sequence, Evan is running around in a woman’s pantsuit because his dry-cleaners mixed up their orders — during the next, a shirtless magician played by Jason Mantzoukas is standing on the roof of a casino and firing a crossbow at his car. Every new character that Jason and Evan meet on their road trip has some wacky, homicidal eccentricity, but none of this stuff is clever. The film doesn’t do broad physical comedy as well as the Farrelly brothers (even the Farrelly brothers circa 2016), and it’s far too cynical to convincingly untangle the knotted bonds of male friendship that Judd Apatow and his ilk continue to pull apart and restring. It’s the kind of cheap VOD wank that makes you wish that you could go back in time and stop John Landis from making “The Blues Brothers.”
From the start, “Search Party” has a difficult time finding its main character. The gimmick of “The Hangover” was contingent on the idea that the missing bro disappeared from the film completely, leaving viewers as clueless to his whereabouts as the characters who were trying to find him. But this script (which Armstrong cowrote with Mike Gagerman and Andrew Waller) can’t resist the temptation to titter at the helpless Nardo as he somehow winds up caked in cocaine and running from a (rather charming) trio of gun-toting drug runners. Eventually, Evan emerges as the true protagonist, but the agonizingly trite work crisis he’s saddled with is enough to make you wish that he hadn’t. Worse, Evan’s plot completely wastes Alison Brie (playing the co-worker he has a crush on) and the rare comedy stylings of smooth-voiced “Fringe” alum Lance Reddick (playing the boss he’s trying to impress). It all ends in a surprisingly solid “Babe: Pig in the City” reference, but by then it’s too late. And when it’s too late for a movie to be saved by a solid “Babe: Pig in the City” reference, then God help us all.
“Search Party” opens in theaters and on VOD on Friday.