Search Party: Eleven-Year Itch, by David Bax
It’s been over a decade now since The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Wedding Crashers ushered in a new era of vulgar comedies with heart about adult-adolescent male bonding. The increasingly anti-sentimental Hangover trilogy should have put a bullet in the subgenre’s brain but it seems like we’re still in the midst of our own cinematic hangover, with dull echoes like Scot Armstrong’s Search Party still rattling around our collective skull. It’s not even that Search Party is terrible. It’s just that, as an umpteenth-generation copy, it’s completely devoid of originality.
Adam Pally (Happy Endings) and T.J. Miller (Deadpool) star as Evan and Jason, respectively, the two best friends of Nardo (Miller’s Silicon Valley costar Thomas Middleditch). Jason, convinced Nardo’s nuptials are a tragic mistake, interrupts the wedding and breaks up the couple. The now jilted bride (Shannon Woodward) goes on their planned Mexican honeymoon by herself and when a lovesick Nardo attempts to follow, he finds himself stranded. Evan and Jason hop in the car to rescue him and soon find themselves in a one-crazy-night series of misadventures, all with the ticking clock of Evan’s big work presentation at the end of the day hanging over their heads.
There’s a bit more to the story than that, as described by the reams of boilerplate exposition forced into the characters’ mouths, all of which sounds like a formulaic placeholder to be colored in later. Evan, for example, is angling for a nebulous “the promotion” while pining for a coworker who is literally described as “the attractive girl at your office.” Thankfully, she is eventually granted the name Elizabeth and played by the underutilized Alison Brie.
Brie is not the only comedic heavy hitter slumming it in Search Party. In addition to the three talented leads, J.B. Smoove, Jason Mantzoukas, Jon Glaser, Riki Lindhome, Kate Micucci, Brian Huskey and (very briefly) Horatio Sanz all appear, alongside solid character actors like Lance Reddick and Krysten Ritter. More often than not, this collection of onscreen savvy is wasted, though Mantzoukas and Ritter make hay out of their tangential bit as an amoral magician and his assistant. Mostly, though, the movie has Evan and Jason screaming at each other, leaving us only to reflect on how much Pally and Miller sound alike.
As with so many studio comedies of the 21st century, Search Party relies on the improvisational skills of these actors far too much, leading to occasional breakdowns in coherence. On the plus side, though, this looseness gives the cast a chance to flex their physical comedy muscles. Pally spends a chunk of time partially paralyzed by tranquilizers, making his awkward attempt to run away from a soon-to-explode car a highlight. And Miller gets laughs by merely waving away some pot smoke. Middleditch should probably get the most credit, though, for spending a surprisingly large amount of screen time completely nude, with a high number of full frontal shots representing a welcome change for a male movie star.
Middleditch’s oft-showcased penis might, in fact, be the only part of Search Party that resembles any sort of progress for these kinds of movies. The rest of it is decidedly regressive, from the shrewish characterization of Nardo’s fiancée to the reductive and xenophobic depiction of life south of the border. Virgin and Crashers felt fresh back in 2005 but the bloom is off the rose. The returns have diminished.