THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"SEARCHING FOR SONNY"
Searching for Sonny is a masterclass in how not to make a mystery. Or a comedy, for that matter. Writer/director Andrew Disney's film is the story of Elliot Knight (Jason Dohring), a depressed guy who decides to attend his 10-year high school reunion after receiving a postcard from an old friend named Sonny. Once there, he reconnects with his former flame Eden (Minka Kelly), his badass brother Calvin (the highly unconvincing Nick Kocher), and dweeby pal Gary (Brian McElhaney). One person who isn't in attendance is Sonny (Masi Oka) himself; it turns out that he has mysteriously disappeared. When Elliot and the boys stumble upon a dead body, they suspect Sonny might be in danger. Sonny wrote a murder-mystery play back in the day, and since the current events mirror its plot, Elliot decides to become an amateur detective to figure out what happened to his old chum.
The structure of Searching for Sonny clearly rips off Marc Webb's brilliant 2009 romance (500) Days of Summer, employing a suspiciously similar-sounding narrator to tell you what's in the characters' heads, in addition to a storytelling approach that repeatedly jumps back and forth in time. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case, it seems less like flattery and more like highway robbery. Disney is obviously aiming for that same sort of tone, yet he falls far short of achieving it.
Half the problem is that the mystery is dull as can be. It was pretty obvious to me almost from the beginning who the primary culprit is. And the “clues” the guys find do not hook you and make you want to see where they lead. A good mystery causes you to lean forward in your seat. You crave every single bit of new information. You itch to know what it all means, how it all fits together. With Searching for Sonny, you sense early on that none of it is leading anywhere, so rather than becoming intrigued, you become ambivalent. When the big reveal is finally made, it's thoroughly underwhelming.
The other half of the problem is that the comedy is no better than the mystery. It may even be worse. The screenplay has a terminal case of the “cutesies,” with scene after scene presenting some forcibly wacky bit of business that bears no resemblance to actual human behavior. (The most egregious is a scene in which the boys think they are being visited by a man from the future. Yeah, right.) This is one of those movies where everyone talks and behaves like an impressed-with-himself screenwriter. Everything is self-consciously quirky. Making quirkiness work is tough; it requires characters who have some grounding in reality. Elliot and his pals are just caricatures, so they aren't funny and it's really difficult to care about them.
Lacking any sort of emotion, humor, or intelligence, Searching for Sonny took me through a range of emotions. I went from apathy, to boredom, to annoyance, and, finally, to outright anger. The only good feeling I had was relief – a feeling that came when the words “The End” popped up on the screen after what felt like an eternity.
( out of four)
Searching for Sonny is unrated but contains adult language and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
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