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The oppressive influence of social media is a subject that’s ripe for satire. But it requires much sharper target shooting than what’s provided in Sarah Smick’s comedy about a Facebook-obsessed dweeb who fakes his own death to find out which of the 417 virtual friends he constantly boasts about really care about him. Tediously unfunny, Friended to Death is unlikely to distract viewers from checking out their smartphones as it unspools.
The story concerns Michael (Ryan Hansen, Veronica Mars), a Los Angeles male meter maid who cruelly relishes his job — “I’m like the Batman of parking enforcement,” he tells his boss — even while constantly updating his status and posting selfies. But when he makes the mistake of posting an online photo of one of his vehicular snares, he’s unceremoniously fired.
He’s even more distressed to discover that Joel (Zach McGowan), who he considers his best friend, recently held a party without inviting him. So he enlists his hapless former colleague Emile (James Immekus) in a scheme in which he posts a fake notice of his own demise that quickly receives 22 “likes.”
Chaotic if not comedic complications ensue, with Joel’s snarky roommate (co-scripter Ian Michaels) immediately becoming suspicious and going out of his way to prove that Michael is indeed still alive. Meanwhile, Michael finds himself stalked by a mysterious blonde (director Smick) who, it’s eventually revealed, bears a longtime grudge.
Although not without its amusing moments, such as Michael’s acronym-studded habit of speaking “in text,” the film quickly degenerates into a tired mixture of wacky slapstick, heavy-handed melodrama and message-laden moralizing. It’s no surprise that the latter involves Michael’s dawning realization that real-life friendship is vastly preferable to the Internet kind.
Hansen is unable to make his character’s clueless obnoxiousness funny or endearing, with the result that we’re all too eager to see his comeuppance, while the supporting performers flounder in their one-dimensional roles. Making her feature film debut, director Smick works in such broad strokes that the story, apparently based on a real-life incident, never once feels remotely truthful.
Production: Green Step Productions
Cast: Ryan Hansen, James Immekus, Zach McGowan, Sarah Smick, Ian Michaels, Richard Riehle, Angela Bullock, Robert R. Shafer
Director: Sarah Smick
Screenwriters: Sarah Smick, Ian Michaels
Producers: Ian Michaels, Sarah Smick, Peter Smick
Director of photography: Jimmy Jung Lu
Production designer: Susannah Lowber
Costume designer: Joanna Konjevod
Editor: Randy Carter
Music: Nathan Whitehead
Rated R, 94 minutes
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