Falling somewhere between the nonstop bro-ness of The Hangover series and the stunted emotional themes of practically every Seth Rogen comedy lies Scot Armstrong’s Search Party, a roadtrip buddy comedy that desperately seeks to find original ideas amidst an incredibly tired formula. It’s a story of brotherhood you’ve seen a dozen times before, but thanks to a likable cast it manages to hold your interest until the final frames have played.
Thomas Middleditch stars as Daniel “Nardo” Narducci, an overly anxious Thomas Middleditch type who makes the mistake of telling his two best friends, Jason (TJ Miller) and Evan (Adam Pally), that he’s having second thoughts about getting married while high in a van on the night of his bachelor party. When the big day arrives, Jason brings the ceremony to an awkward standstill by revealing Nardo’s hesitation, and the entire event quickly falls apart. Nardo claims he never asked for such help, but his bride to be (Shannon Woodward) does not believe him. Embarrassed, she flees Los Angeles and travels to Mexico by using the tickets the couple had purchased for their honeymoon. Nardo chases after her, believing he can still win her back, but before he can reach her he is carjacked, stripped naked, and left for dead in the middle of nowhere. Realizing he has nowhere to turn, Nardo calls Jason — whom he is still very much upset with — and asks him for help.
Once on the road, Jason and Evan bicker about what it means to grow up and why it’s important to aspire to be something more than what you are now. This is practically the only time the film attempts to sell you anything other than crass humor, and for the most part it works, though it’s certainly not an original message. If anything can be learned from other, similarly plotted films it’s that being a late twenty-something stoner who sees their friends maturing while they remain in neutral is a terrifying predicament. Jason recognizes that his friends are starting to outgrow the things they once loved, and he fears that mat soon happen to the way they feel towards him as well, but he believes that saving Nardo in his time of need may provide a solution to everyone’s problems.
Nothing is ever as easy as it seems in films like this, especially when the opportunities to leverage xenophobia and dick jokes are so prevalent. The vision of Mexico found in Search Party is one where cartels control everything, drugs are easier to find than clothes, and almost everyone you meet is an asshole to one degree or another. Many of the film’s recurring gags are based on these ideas, and they work to varying degrees of success without ever striking comedy gold. In fact, the movie never finds any gold at all, but it does clip along thanks to funny enough turns from its three main leads. Middleditch in particular is great, fully committing to a performance that requires him to be completely naked for a good portion of the film, and Armstrong continually uses this fact to punch up otherwise dull moments. The thinking here appears to be that there is no punchline so underwhelming that it cannot be made funny with the addition of genitals bouncing through the frame, but more often than not that rings false.
Community star Alison Brie appears as well, playing the cute coworker Evan is afraid to ask out, but her presence is so minimal it barely deserve mention in this review. The few scenes in which she does appear are some of the most rewarding moments in the film, but again they’re all too brief. Like Nardo’s bride does for Middleditch’s character, Brie’s presence gives Evan something to work towards. Convincing her that he’s worthy of her love is Evan’s Everest, and watching him attempt to conquer his own self-doubt provides several funny moments throughout the film.
Aside from coating a scrawny naked white guy in cocaine and having him face-off against cartel members lead by an overacting JB Smoove, Search Party is criminally short on fresh ideas. What little twists do exist barely register as original thoughts, and their payoff is equally mediocre. There is nothing outright bad about this film, but there is also nothing all that great. It’s a time killer that will make those who appreciate for juvenile humor giggle while coming off as a desperate attempt at yuk-yuks to everyone else. It’s fun enough while it lasts, but as soon as it’s over you will banish it to the back of the brain where memories of titles like American Reunion and Hangover III are left to rot. Search Party is completely watchable, yet there is no reason to see it right away. It is a textbook example of a title that consumers should wait to see on Netflix, and even then it may not be worth your time.