'Search Party': Film Review

A 'Hangover' wannabe that leaves you with a headache nonetheless  

'Silicon Valley' co-stars Thomas Middleditch and T.J. Miller headline the directorial debut of 'The Hangover Part II' and 'Road Trip' screenwriter Scot Armstrong

Search Party, the directorial debut of Scot Armstrong, one of the screenwriters on Road Trip and The Hangover Part II, plays less like a cross of those two films than an exercise in recycling similar material on a smaller budget (a seven-minute end-credits crawl notwithstanding). Affable and intrepid Silicon Valley co-stars Thomas Middleditch and T.J. Miller headline this entirely generic gross-out comedy about a stood-up groom who finds himself naked in Mexico and the friends who need to rescue him from harm and a continuous barrage of bad jokes. Currently without a release date in the U.S., this Universal title got a courtesy theatrical release in France this week, though with next to no advertising and only two daily showings on a single screen in Paris, the distributor doesn’t seem to think it stands any chance of finding an audience. Straight-to-VOD releases in other territories loom.

The film, thrown together more than written by Armstrong with Mike Gagerman and Andrew Waller, starts with the bachelor party of Nardo (Middleditch), which simply consists of sitting in a van with his roommates/buddies, Jason (Miller) and Evan (Adam Pally), smoking weed, drinking booze and letting out all his insecurities about getting hitched. The screenwriters' idea of the height of hilarity in this early stretch is Evan's claim that Roy Horn, of Siegfried and Roy, was mauled by a wildebeest, not a tiger. There's not even an attempt to somehow turn this misinformation or Evan's insistence into comedy fodder; somehow the fact he got it wrong is supposed to be inherently funny.

At the wedding, Jason, fueled by Nardo's drugs-fueled confessions about his marriage doubts, feels the need to halt the ceremony and the bride-to-be (Shannon Woodward) runs off in a huff, deciding to go on their Mexican honeymoon alone. Nardo follows her but is car-jacked and then "tuxedo-jacked" — ha-ha-ha, the level of jokes just keeps getting better — so he ends up calling his California buddies for help stark naked from a pay phone in the middle of a Mexican nowhere.

Evan's about to be promoted at work and therefore can't really leave, so Jason kidnaps him, and together they drive to Mexico, though not without stopping at a casino first, the better to recall the Hangover franchise. This interlude, which involves a casino performer, the Amazing Hugo (Jason Mantzoukas), and a sexy assistant (Krysten Ritter), is full of comic potential, but, as elsewhere in the film, the writing is lazy, and the scene simply limps on after an initially promising setup. 

There are some decent but not exceptional effects and stunt work as Jason ends up being captured by a Mexican drug lord (J.B. Smoove) and some shootouts and a jailbreak sequence ensue. But the comedy here feels secondhand and becomes grating when no cliche is left unused, whether about nationality, race, gays or the female gender.

Indeed, the stupidity of the characters is a problem. When Nardo says everything in Mexico is in "Mexican words," and of course not in Spanish because "we're not in Spain," it's not only a not very funny joke, but it makes the characters unlikable and difficult to relate to. (Is Nardo a blatant racist or a Californian so uneducated he's unaware of which language Mexicans speak?) However, the characters do reference films continuously and exhaustingly, which seems to be at odds with their basic education levels.

While there's nothing wrong with the protagonists doing stupid things — comedies such as The Hangover thrive on exactly that — audiences need to be able to love the characters a little or at least pity them, and neither is a possibility here. With such a rote screenplay, there's nothing that the extremely game cast can do to make things funnier or suggest that their characters exist beyond what's on the page.

Production designer Toby Corbett does decent work, given that a lot of the film was shot in Louisiana for tax reasons, though often visual gags involving props don't rise above the level of a black limo painted with the words "just married," flanked by two crudely drawn spraying penises. The male member also is the subject of a raunchy wedding song performed in the last reel by Garfunkel & Oats that's funnier than practically everything that has come before it.  

Production companies: Gold Circle Films, RGB Media, American Works

Cast: Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Adam Pally, Alison Brie, Krysten Ritter, Jason Mantzoukas, Lance Reddick, Brian Huskey, J.B. Smoove, Jon Glaser, Rosa Salazar

Director: Scot Armstrong

Screenplay: Scot Armstrong, Mike Gagerman, Andrew Waller

Producers: Scot Armstrong, Paul Brooks, Neal H. Moritz, Ravi Nandan, Jeff Levine

Director of photography: Tim Orr

Production designer: Toby Corbett

Costume designer: Abby O'Sullivan

Editor: Sam Seig

Music: Craig Wedren

Casting: Nicole Abellera, Jeanne McCarthy

No rating, 92 minutes

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