Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Search Party’s quest for laughs comes back empty-handed

It’s difficult to hide the fact that Search Party has been sitting on its distributor’s shelf for a couple of years now. IMDB lists the production date as 2014, and a cursory Google search reveals that the movie was released on Blu-ray overseas a year ago. So why is it coming to (a small handful of) American theaters now? Presumably, that’s thanks to the newly heightened profile of Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch (who very recently was small-time enough to play the cashier in an American Express ad alongside Tina Fey) and his co-star, T.J. Miller, who did voice work on Oscar-winner Big Hero 6. The problem is, though, that this movie was past its expiration date when it was written, let alone made. So a two-year cooling period was the opposite of what it needed.

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Middleditch stars as Nardo, a timid Los Angeles bro whose best friend, Jason (Miller), takes his stoned ramblings on the night of his bachelor party a little too seriously. (There are only three kinds of men in these movies: timid, slovenly, and intimidating.) This being a post-Hangover comedy, that means Jason uses something Nardo said as an excuse to stop his wedding to the perfectly bland Tracy (Shannon Woodward) in dramatic, The Graduate-inspired fashion. (There are only three kinds of women in these movies: bland, crazy, and type A.) Except Nardo didn’t really have any serious doubts about his impending nuptials. He was just stoned.

So, in a desperate attempt to get her back, Nardo follows Tracy after she decides to go on their Mexican honeymoon by herself. Once he crosses the border—because, again, this is a post-Hangover comedy—his car is stolen and he’s left naked in some dusty small town, the first of several times Middleditch drops trou in this movie. He then manages to make a collect call to Jason, who scoops up their third roommate, Evan (Adam Pally), for an emergency rescue mission. Evan has a big presentation at work in the morning—Pally’s playing the straight man here, since Miller has the ”charming slob” bit covered—which he almost certainly won’t make amid madcap layovers at a casino, a Mexican jail, a cocaine kingpin’s lair, and the home of a preteen fake ID dealer.

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Sound like every other R-rated comedy that’s come out in the past decade or so? Well, it is. From the music to the pop-culture references to the dick jokes and drug use, the mediocrity of this film cannot be overstated. It’s not that the humor is offensive, although the five-man (emphasis on “man”) writing team all seem to think it’s hilarious that Mexicans speak Spanish and not, um, Mexican. No, for a self-proclaimed gross-out comedy like this one, critics reaching for their smelling salts at the political incorrectness of it all is a compliment. Search Party has a far worse problem: It’s just not very funny.

All the actors do their thing: Miller plays the suave slob/agent of chaos, Middleditch twitches and yelps, and Pally stands there, shocked, mouth agape in wonderment. The question arises, as it always does, of why these guys are even friends with each other. The supporting cast is impressive, too: Perhaps due to the comedy bona fides of director Scot Armstrong—who wrote the screenplays for Old School and The Hangover Part II, among others—the cast of Search Party is stacked with buzzy names like Jon Glaser, Krysten Ritter, Lance Reddick, Alison Brie, Jason Mantzoukas (who provides one of the movie’s few funny moments), and musical comedy duo Garfunkel & Oates (who provide another). Yet pop-culture references, witty banter, broad slapstick, and sentimental speeches all fall equally flat.

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Considering all of these people have been funny in other things, the fault for this probably lies behind the camera, maybe because Armstrong and his screenwriters seem to have conflated the concept of “stakes” with that of “mortal peril.” If, therefore, the threat of violence is inherently edgy, and edgy is funny, then an extended, slapstick-heavy scene where Pally nearly plays victim to organ thieves should be fucking hilarious. But it’s not, mostly because it’s a mere diversion from the actual stakes of the film, i.e., Nardo’s relationship with his fiancee and the guys’ relationships with each other. For better or for worse, we live in a world where stoners getting into gunfights and jokes about an 11-year-old’s balls are both thoroughly played out as vehicles for humor. Hopefully Search Party will officially put an end to the trend.

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