Search Party is one of those shelved Black List productions you so desperately want to succeed, if only for its cast of on-the-bubble, breakout-seeking lead actors. T.J. Miller, Thomas Middleditch and Adam Pally are all star-worthy comedians (Silicone Valley/The Final Girls/Night Owls/Happy Endings), but Scot Armstrong’s directorial debut struggles to muster its own frat-comedy voice (Armstrong wrote a majority of Todd Phillips’ films). There are funny moments, and enjoyably deranged comedic beats, but they’re sandwiched between characters who only find humor in offensive insults and an obsession with Middleditch’s dangling member. It’s no direct-to-DVD Road Trip sequel, but stoner comedy of the highest order this is not – pun intended.
Armstrong’s wild ride begins when Jason (T.J. Miller) and Evan (Adam Pally) ruin their best friend’s wedding, sending the depressed groom, Nardo (Thomas Middleditch), into an emotional draught. With his heart still broken, Nardo decides to surprise his ex-future-wife by showing up at their Mexican honeymoon destination, which she’s now enjoying alone. This, of course, is a terrible idea, and only gets worse when Nardo calls Jason from Mexico, where he’s cold, naked and alone. Seeing no other option, Jason grabs Evan – who is fast asleep on Ambien – and starts driving through California to rescue their stranded friend. What could go wrong? Everything – that’s a rhetorical question.
Along the way, these three doofy musketeers encounter aggressive lesbian mothers, crooked FBI agents and a host of other delinquents who usually end up wanting to kill them. Jason Mantzoukas cameos as a shifty magician named The Amazing Hugo, who is essentially Rafi (from The League) if he wore a cape and wielded a three-tiered crossbow. As expected, vulgarity and blurred sexuality reign supreme. Same goes for J.B. Smoove, who appears as a thickly-bearded federal officer with an underground drug business. You’ll laugh, sparingly, but neither comedian does more than exploit their signature brand. Mantzoukas stands atop a building wearing nothing but leather undies and boots, shooting flaming arrows – it’s that kind of zany stupidity.
It’s hard not to draw comparisons between Search Party and The Hangover. Very hard. Armstrong, along with writers Mike Gagerman and Andrew Waller, push a dialogue-heavy road trip that rapidly transitions into something strange and increasingly violent. Yet, Search Party lacks the cohesive qualities that Phillips’ cannon typically demonstrates. The Hangover is completely asinine, but still tells a worthy story and embraces insanity with an appropriate “maturity” (maybe darkness is a better word). Search Party is just a bunch of weird ideas strung together during a blistery desert journey, where consequences are typically meaningless and friendship is about forgiveness (even if your life was just ruined). Embrace the bro-love and hardships vanish – well if Hollywood sounds like a magical, emotion-free dreamland.
Pally, Middleditch and Miller comprise a comedic trio who deserves more adventures, but not with material stuck in an early-2000s juvenility. Their chemistry plays effortlessly – wasted or sober – and when conversations get “insightful,” you’ll be fighting back chuckles. Miller’s shlubby charms contradict Pally’s more neurotic paranoias. This is showcased best when Pally’s character Evan hopelessly hits on an attractive co-worker (Alison Brie). Then there’s Middleditch, whose motormouth runs incessantly – and that’s before his character finds himself covered head-to-toe in a layer of pure, uncut cocaine. Yet, while funny, you’ll only remember Middleditch for Nardo’s exposed nads, which the film strangely enjoys exposing the hell out of a little too much. You’re a brave man, Thomas Middleditch.
Sadly, the efforts of three ambitious comedians are wasted on a story that recklessly amplifies ridiculousness and thinks seeing male genitalia is a funny enough joke to warrant repeat offenses. That’s the essence of Search Party – berate viewers with obscenity and hope a few “zingers” land. Armstrong attempts to establish an emotional core representative of friends fighting against responsibility and separation, but such a shallow screenplay never evolves these sentiments into something meaningful. Boobs, dongs and f-bombs are considered entertainment here, without any intelligence to supplement.
Search Party is a waste of funny people who are given silly, unfunny things to do.