Tag Archives: T. J. Miller

Search Party

Search Party is the worst kind of terrible comedy.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

search partySearch Party begins at the bachelor party of one Nardo (Thomas Middleditch).  In just a few hours, he will be getting married to the love of his life, Tracy (Shannon Woodward), but right now he’s getting high in a van with his two best friends – straight man business guy Evan (Adam Pally), and loser slacker Jason (T. J. Miller).  During this session, he experiences nerves about his impending nuptials which Jason, who doesn’t like Tracy for whatever reason, takes to mean that Nardo just plain doesn’t want to get married.  He therefore crashes the wedding, leaving Nardo heartbroken and Tracy jetting off to Mexico to experience their honeymoon alone.

The next evening, Jason gets a call from Nardo.  Nardo went to Mexico to try and find Tracy, but was promptly car-jacked and “tuxedo-jacked” and so now is stranded in Mexico, naked, with no car, no cash, and no way of getting to Tracy or back home.  Jason promptly grabs Evan – since he’s not allowed to drive Evan’s company car without Evan present – and the two begin their race down to Mexico to try and get Nardo back unharmed.  Preferably before 8am at that, as that’s when Evan has a big meeting with his boss (Lance Reddick) that could land him a big promotion.

I wrote down that entire plot synopsis because I wanted to make it really, really clear to you about just how desperately Todd Phillips-y Search Party is trying to be, and especially like Due Date.  Conveniently, Search Party is the directorial debut of Scot Armstrong, who has been one of Todd Phillips’ closest collaborators, having co-written scripts for Road Trip, Old School, Starsky & Hutch, and The Hangover Part II, so it makes sense that Search Party plays like a bad Todd Phillips movie.  I mean, that’s a redundant descriptor, as pretty much all Todd Phillips movies are bad movies, but the point still stands.

So, it’s a bro-comedy, and comes with everything that you’re expecting from a modern day bro-comedy.  Lots of references to and smoking of weed, racial and just plain racist stereotypes because “ha ha, aren’t non-white people hilarious for being non-white?”, casual sexism verging into outright misogyny at points, painfully laborious set ups for extended setpieces that are not as inherently funny as the film’s writers thought they’d be, a wet-blanked nagging love interest for our straight man (Alison Brie) whose sole purpose is to roll her eyes at the antics of the stupid boys, a cheap and stunningly incompetent action finale, the man-child best friend being the kind of hateful imbecile that makes you wonder why anybody would ever voluntarily hang around this bell-end, terrible CGI, a vomiting donkey…

That’s not why I hate Search Party, though.  Bro-comedies aren’t my thing, but they normally just bore me and cause me to sigh by this point.  They’re not for me and, although I do believe that human society would be a million percent better off by the eradication of their existence, they don’t annoy or offend me anymore, unless they are really atrociously offensive.  And although Search Party is rather offensive – women are either evil, bangable background candy, or personality-free prizes for our cast, Mexicans are lazy or threats to our heroes, JB Smoove’s evil crazed drug dealer is exactly what you’re imagining the result of that description to be – and really poorly made – continuity errors abound everywhere, certain shot choices and cuts make no sense, I can feel the cheapness radiate from this film’s entire being – it’s not offensive enough or incompetent enough to draw my ire by itself.

No, my ire is drawn from the cast.  Specifically, this cast list is a veritable dream team of stars from cult sitcoms from the past half-decade who have long deserved a shot at movie stardom.  Our leads are Adam Pally from the cruelly short-lived Happy Endings, Thomas Middleditch from Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley, and T. J. Miller who is also from Silicon Valley and whose unmistakeable voice has popped up in the margins of pretty much every single animated project released since 2010.  There’s also Alison Brie from Community, Krysten Ritter from the also criminally short-lived Don’t Trust The B—- In Apartment 23, Jason Mantzoukas from The League, JB Smoove from 30 Rock and Chris Rock’s amazing Top Five, and Shannon Woodward from the quietly great Raising Hope.

This is a stacked cast of astoundingly talented comic performers who killed it on their respective shows, have shown talent in guest spots elsewhere, and who deserve their breakthrough moment and an opportunity to headline a damn good comedy feature.  The fact that they’ve been brought together for one movie is ridiculous and should, in theory, produce a film of non-stop hilarity.  Hence my ire, because this is a cast that has been given absolutely nothing to work with.  Like, there is almost literally nothing in this script that constitutes an actual joke and multiple, multiple characters get quite literally nothing funny to do.  Alison Brie is given no jokes whatsoever, inexcusable, and Lance Reddick’s role could genuinely be replaced by a balloon tied to a wet floor sign and you’d get the same effect.

So this isn’t a case of a cast not being able to turn mediocre or worse material into something decent through delivery and sheer force of will, like the best comic performers can, this is a cast trying to make something out of nothing and coming off as incredibly desperate as a result.  Nobody could make this work.  You could give this script to an in-their-prime Bill Murray, Jim Carrey, and Robin Williams and you would still get the exact same results!  Garfunkel And Oates – the musical act of Riki Lindholme and Kate Micucci – show up at the beginning and end of the film to sing two of their own songs and they are far, far, far funnier than anything the film itself comes up with, and their whole thing is “Aww, look!  We’re two sweet girls singing cute songs on ukuleles and acoustic guitars PUSSY VAGINA PUSSY VAGINA PUSSY VAGINA DICK DICK DICK”!

And what gets me, what REALLY gets me, is the fact that this cast will not be given this chance again, and I’m not just saying that because Universal have delayed the film’s release in America for close to a year now and are dumping it in pretty much every other country for the time being.  This cast will not be brought back together exactly like they were here for any other film, not to mention the fact that at least half of these folks’ movie careers are about to hit massive brick walls as a result of this.  Let’s Be Cops was another terrible film that squandered excellent sitcom actors who deserve a chance to prove themselves in a big screen film on completely garbage material, but that film was a success and I have a good feeling that Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. will be brought back together multiple times in the future to try again and again, hopefully on scripts that contain even trace amounts of wit and humour.  But that’s not happening with these folks.

That’s why Search Party is the worst kind of terrible comedy.  It’s the kind of terrible comedy that ensnares a whole bunch of incredibly talented and potential-filled comedic actors and actresses in its web, and then traps them in an extremely lazy script that gives them nothing to do except stumble through the motions of a dreadful bro-comedy, whilst their attempts to try and make something, anything, funny happen in a script that has no funny just makes them look pitiably desperate and hopelessly out of their depth.  That’s why Search Party angers me, because nothing angers me like talented people having their big chance and potential actively squandered by utter shit.

There is a very good reason why you probably haven’t heard of this film prior to this review.  Trust me, you are better off not seeking it out.

Callum Petch has sucked more blood than a backstreet dentist.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Big Hero 6

Fun, funny, and quietly heartbreaking, Big Hero 6 overcomes what minor flaws it has through some of the strongest character work I have seen in an animated movie in years.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

big hero 6As a kid who grew up during the Disney Renaissance, was too young to understand the significance of it, but was plied with their Golden Age output on various VHS tapes, few things make me happier than seeing Walt Disney Animation Studios once again return to a position where everything they put out is Must-See-Viewing.  What groundwork Bolt managed to lay has proved more than stable as the studio have just been knocking it out of the park consistently for the last five films – The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Winnie The Pooh, Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen – with commercial success following them (almost) every step of the way.

Big Hero 6 continues that trend, completely cementing for those that don’t already know that Disney is very much back, which I imagine comes as a surprise for many people.  After all, it appears to be a superhero film – many snobbier members of the critical spectrum being sick to death of them, by this point – based on a Marvel Comics series – themselves at risk of oversaturation due to that aforementioned comics boom.  Expecting something transcendental from a superhero film, and especially what appears to be a B-grade Disney film, plays like wishful thinking at this point – I enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I’m not going to kid myself into believing that they’re not formula-driven popcorn flicks.

The real masterstroke of Big Hero 6, though, is that the superhero stuff actually makes up comparatively little of the film yet is still a vital part of it.  See, the film follows Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), a brilliant but directionless 14 year-old who finally seems to have found a purpose in his life – joining his similarly brilliant older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) at San Fransokyo’s finest robotics university – when tragedy strikes and Hiro once again has to deal with loss.  Wallowing in his depression, Hiro accidentally activates Tadashi’s latest invention, Baymax (Scott Adsit), a soft, gentle “personal health care companion” who takes it upon itself to help Hiro deal with his depression – in this case throwing themselves into solving the mystery of the tragedy in question, which may not have been as random as it first seemed.

Therefore, the core of Big Hero 6 is not whizz bang superheroics.  It is instead this central relationship between Hiro and Baymax as the latter tries to help the former overcome depression and grief without ever completely understanding the concepts it’s having to grapple with.  That manifests itself via superheroics, but the film makes it clear that this is Hiro’s way of dealing with that loss, choosing to fixate on something to get his mind off the giant hole that has appeared in his life.  Crucially, this is not the solution to his problems, it’s just the method, and the film never purports to claim that Hiro has or ever truly will overcome that loss.  It offers no concrete answers, although Hiro does end the film happily, and its refusal to do so is what makes that thematic centre work – there’s a level of trusting maturity there that more animated films should have.

Helping that thematic centre is the fact that Hiro and Baymax are wonderful, incredibly lovable characters.  Baymax, obviously, is the standout of the whole film, an absolutely adorable AI whose pacifist and childlike nature resonated totally with me.  It is a creation of pure kind-hearted good and its little pre-programmed procedures and affectations manage to bring it close enough to humanity to make its more robotic moments that much more surprising and, occasionally, heartbreaking.  Hiro is also likeable from the word “go”, his archetype forming the base of his character but not forming his entire character which enables him to feel unique and three-dimensional even from the opening few minutes.

Those qualities are enhanced too by their respective voice actors.  Ryan Potter, previous of live-action Nickelodeon series Supah Ninjas, proves himself surprisingly adept at voice acting.  A lot of the film is carried on Hiro’s shoulders, as well as that aforementioned weighty central theme, but he is more than up to the task, never over or under-playing any of his lines and excellently communicating the heartbreak, occasional anger and eventual somewhat recovery in a natural and convincing way.  As for Scott Adsit…  I really don’t know what to say, he is Baymax.  From the second that Baymax communicates, Scott Adsit is it.  His voice is that kind of genius immediate “no, this is perfect” casting that Disney have just been on a roll with recently – John C. Reilly as Ralph, Kristen Bell as Anna, Kristen Schaal as Mabel – and it fits Baymax so perfectly that he makes anything the character says a million times better than it already sounded on paper.

You may have noticed that I have yet to talk about the rest of the members of the Big Hero 6.  Well, there’s a reason for that.  See, this is Hiro’s movie.  It’s about his grief and his fight with depression.  Opening up to his friends – who for the record are GoGo Tamada (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez), Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), and Freddie (T. J. Miller) – at all, let alone asking them for help, is a major step for him and so, naturally, it takes about an hour for that to happen.  As such, these guys and gals don’t get much of a focus in this movie and end up, like most of the superhero stuff which is the way that Hiro seeks closure in an attempt to move on, only coming into play in the final 40 minutes.

Not that this is a problem, mind you, as they all, even with their limited screen time – and the relegation of their backstories to promotional material, again not a problem – feel… well, real.  They really do.  Even with a comparatively tiny glimpse into their lives and personalities, they already feel like fully-formed, fully-defined, characters who exist and I can see existing outside of the confines of this film.  GoGo, in particular, is given little material in this film yet I already adore her, thanks to what little we do find out – “Woman up!” is a phrase that fills me with indescribable joy, you have no idea – her character animations, and her voice actresses’ performance.

I get the impression that Disney wants this to be the start of some new franchise and that this will be something addressed in future media, but I don’t want a franchise in the traditional sense.  I don’t want the big budget action-packed sequel, I don’t want a traditional television series, and I don’t want any of the superhero stuff.  I just want more of Hiro, GoGo, Honey Lemon, Wasabi, and Freddie – with the occasional intrusion by Hiro’s wonderful Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph, having a ball) – hanging out together being them.  The downtime, the non-action, non-dramatic stuff that conventional wisdom says is too boring to depict – with conflict and drama being the essence of narrative – because the little glimpses I got were so wonderful and tantalising that I just want more of that.  I want more time with these characters…

…and also San Fransokyo.  Seriously, the city of San Fransokyo is absolutely beautiful, a bustling metropolis with little details in architecture, signage, transport and just general design to make it feel like a genuine place that I would like to move to immediately.  The camerawork also helps by borrowing that How To Train Your Dragon technique of bobbing, weaving and zooming like a live-action camera, adding a heft and dynamism to proceedings.  Ditto the character animations which, whilst the designs are very much that Tangled-style of 3D Disney, are smoother and weightier than those in Frozen.  In fact, that’s a perfect comparison: if the world of Frozen feels very much like a constructed movie set, with an artificial and loosely connected world and doll-like character designs and animations, then the world of Big Hero 6 feels like a real world that I can go to and live in.

There are flaws with Big Hero 6 – I wish that they didn’t play the Fall Out Boy song during the Montage montage, I wish the film had enough faith in its loss theme to not reverse the traditional Disney Death near the ending, that very last (non-post-credits) scene does not need to be there at all, and it telegraphs said tragedy way too obviously – but they really are just minor nitpicks for me.  Big Hero 6 gets its core, both thematically and emotionally, spot-on, crafts a group of outstanding characters I just want to spend more time with, and a world I am genuinely sad about not really existing.  From there, everything else slides into place – the humour, the fun, the excitement, what few action sequences there actually are – and what little it does wrong is rendered inconsequential in my mind.

As soon as I left the screen for Big Hero 6, I was left with two burning desires: to see it again, and to get down on my knees to Walt Disney Animation Studios and beg for them to make more shorts of just the core group of friends hanging out together.  I adored it.  Do not miss this one.

Big Hero 6 is due out in UK cinemas on January 30th.

Callum Petch can’t seem to do what you do.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!