How old is writer-director Scot Armstrong’s raunchy R-rated comedy Search Party about two dudes (T.J. Miller, Adam Pally) who ruin a friend’s (Thomas Middleditch) wedding and then have to save him in Mexico when he runs afoul of the locals while trying to track down his runaway fiance (Shannon Woodward)? It’s so old that T.J. Miller and Thomas Middleditch went straight from filming the Silicon Valley pilot to filming this movie, and as of this writing Silicon Valley just wrapped up its third season.
Actually, in the grand scheme of things that doesn’t actually make Search Party all that old. It finished filming in 2013, was due out in 2014 and sat on the shelf for two years. Finally, it hit select theaters and VOD earlier this summer, marketed as a new movie starring two of those Silicon Valley guys.
I certainly fell for it, happily renting Search Party from Redbox yesterday. However, there should be some sort of mandatory warning label attached to the posters and box covers for movies like this, maybe “Warning: This Movie Was Stuck In Distribution Limbo For At Least 2 Years.” At least that way you’d know Search Party isn’t the latest thing these actors have done. It’s what Adam Pally did immediately after Happy Endings was canceled. Ditto for Krysten Ritter (who has a small role as a casino temptress) and Don’t Trust the B- in Apartment 23. It’s how Alison Brie (who plays Pally’s love interest) filled her hiatus between Community‘s fourth and fifth season. The same goes for Shannon Woodward, working this in-between the third and fourth seasons of Raising Hope (a show long since canceled at this point).
But that’s hardly the most open-minded angle for me to take on this. Not all movies which hover in distribution limbo for years deserve such a fate. After all, there are many things about Search Party which seem very commercial, definitely of a piece with Armstrong’s prior work as a screenwriter-for-hire on big movies like Road Trip, Old School, Starsky & Hutch, Semi-Pro and The Hangover II. As Yahoo pointed out in its interview with Armstrong to promote Search Party:
There’s an exploding car a la Road Trip (“We didn’t have any money for special effects so when it blows up, it’s really blowing up”), gratuitous male nudity a la Old School (asked for how many days of the film’s 34-day shoot Middleditch was naked, Armstrong shoots back, “35”), and some marital misadventures a la The Hangover (Middleditch is in Mexico trying to win back his ex-fiancee after Miller sabotages their wedding). And, of course, there’s plenty of laughs derived from Armstrong jokes you haven’t yet witnessed. Take, for instance, the vomiting donkey. The reason why they didn’t have any budget for those exploding cars? “ We used all our money for special effects on when the donkey throws up,” Armstrong laughed.
The fact that Search Party struggled to find distribution could have as much as to do with the shifting winds of the increasingly fickle theatrical marketplace as it does with the actual quality of the film. This could be a classic case, “Well, they don’t make ’em like that anymore, and it confused the hell out of the studios’ marketing departments.”
Or it might just be that Search Party isn’t very good.
To be fair, Search Party isn’t necessarily a bad movie; it’s not a particularly good one either. It’s just kind of there, coasting on Adam Pally and T.J. Miller having adventures and bickering about their mutual need to grow up and a constantly naked Thomas Middleditch encountering all manner of potentially offensive stereotypes in Mexico.
Armstrong, a 20 year veteran of Second City, ImprovOlympic and Upright Citizens Brigade, stacked the entire cast, starring roles and supporting, full of talent from the L.A. improv scene. As such, the film has the feel of a live-action version of a merely okay episode of Scott Auckerman’s Comedy Bang Bang podcast, or perhaps a goofy gathering of the type of people who used to show up on Adult Swim’s shows like Children’s Hopsital and NTSF:SD:SUV (e.g., of course Jason Mantzoukas pops up to play the standard Jason Mantzoukas character, loud, insane and oddly sexual).
These actors all probably run in similar circles and love working together. I’m sure they had a blast making this movie. However, with so many funny people around the movie itself should have been funnier. The obviously improv moments sees these comedians mostly rolling out their “B” material, and the various comedy setpieces are undercut by unimaginative directing and clear budget restrictions.
There is an amusing bit of cinematic choreography behind one gag in which Pally fails to juggle simultaneous phone calls with his boss (Lance Reddick), increasingly impatient co-worker (Brie) and imprisoned best friend (Middleditch). Plus, an escape attempt from a Mexican drug cartel takes a 360 turn to vaguely amusing results. And similar to Jake Johnson’s thwarted kiss attempt in Jurassic World there is a somewhat clever play on the “one big, climactic kiss for the male hero” trope. Beyond all of that, unless you’re a fan of most of the people in the cast and/or you’re seriously jonesing for a lesser-Hangover/Road Trip mash-up there’s not much here for you.