If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what do you call it when one filmmaker imitates another, then that imitation is imitated, and imitator #1 joins forces with those who copied him? That’s the conundrum of Search Party, in which screenwriter Scot Armstrong, who stepped into Jon Lucas & Scott Moore’s shoes to write The Hangover‘s sequel, makes his directing debut with neophyte screenwriters who clearly used the Hangover series as their template. A bro-com pedigree and a cast full of excellent small-screen talent is no guarantee of magic in this, the cinematic equivalent of Four Loko; its excesses-upon-excess formula may play better in a crowded multiplex than in a critics’ screening room, but it will fall far short of the success enjoyed by the franchise that inspired it.
Here, disaster strikes not on the night before a wedding but immediately after it was supposed to occur. After hearing his pal Nardo (Thomas Middleditch) wonder, in a stoned, bachelor-party haze, if his upcoming marriage is a good idea, reckless Jason (T.J. Miller, Middleditch’s Silicon Valley costar) decides he has to disrupt the nuptials. As best man Evan (Adam Pally) watches aghast, Jason rushes in halfway through the ceremony and ruins everything. Never mind that Nardo loudly protests that he loves Tracy (Shannon Woodward) and has no doubts about the marriage: Tracy dumps him on the spot and heads off to take their planned Mexican honeymoon by herself.
Before long, Nardo has snuck out of the apartment he shares with Jason and Evan. Is he looking for new friends who don’t know his stupid nickname? No, dummy, he’s racing south of the border, like they do in the rom-coms, trying to get back his girl.
What he gets instead is carjacked, robbed of his money and the antique tux he was wearing. It’s hard to imagine why his attackers would take his underwear too, unless the answer is “the screenwriters thought it would be hilarious to have Thomas Middleditch’s penis flopping around for the rest of the film.” But that’s exactly what happens, and when naked Nardo desperately phones his buddies, the two race down to save him in the middle of the night, sure they can get back to LA in time for the Very Important Business Meeting at which Evan expects to get a big promotion.
What happens next? Criminy, what doesn’t happen? No sequence to come affords us the room to laugh. If, for instance, a scene with a teenaged fake-ID salesman is interrupted by an angry mother, it will escalate with accusations of sex abuse, then violence, more violence, the introduction of the boy’s “other mom,” a frantic car getaway, a knocked-over mail box, and a wedding cake mishap. Maybe this set piece, and others to come, looked good on the page. But first-time director Armstrong (who has written several of Todd Phillips’s comedies) offers it up with monotonous frantic energy.
The pic’s cast is very game, even when sometimes they shouldn’t be: Woodward and Alison Brie are saddled with almost offensively thin roles; here, women are just problems that will fix themselves as soon as the men in their lives decide it’s time to act like grownups. You can say horribly stupid things to them, steal their cars, nearly wreck their careers: They’ll still smile sweetly and straighten your tie when you come back to the office.
Production companies: Gold Circle Films, RGB Media
Distributor: Focus World
Cast: Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Adam Pally, Shannon Woodward, Alison Brie
Director: Scot Armstrong
Screenwriters: Mike Gagerman, Andrew Waller, Scot Armstrong
Producers: Scot Armstrong, Paul Brooks, Neal H. Moritz, Ravi Nandan
Director of photography: Tim Orr
Production designer: Tony Corbett
Costume designer: Abby O’Sullivan
Editor: Sam Seig
Composer: Craid Wedren
Casting directors: Nicole Abellera, Jeanne McCarthy
R, 92 minutes