There are a few different types of comedy that need to be handled very delicately in order to be executed properly. Physical comedy is one example of this — there’s a fine line between Buster Keaton-like genius and flailing around like a lunatic. Racial humor is another, easily nudged from satiric to offensive with just a few off-color jokes. And above all: dark comedy. This is a territory that has reached an apex in pop culture — today, almost all comedy veers towards the macabre. Searching for Sonny, a film by writer/director Andrew Disney, is no exception, embracing the inherent opportunities for laughter in twisted, often morbid situations. Oftentimes in the film, it works: the filmmaker sets up a world wherein horrors are plentiful, but not overwhelming. But occasionally, the line is crossed, and the film seems to be reaching for shock value.
The story follows 28-year-old loser Elliot (Jason Dohring), whose fate seems to have been sealed by a turn of events in high school surrounding a production of The Heated Moment: a play written by his former best friend, Sonny (Masi Oka). Hopelessly in love with the leading lady Eden (Minka Kelly), Elliot poisoned the play’s star Sonny so that he himself could assume the lead role and get the opportunity to kiss Eden onstage. In light of all this, Elliot has been estranged from Sonny, Eden, and just about any semblance of happiness since high school graduation.
Shortly after his 28th birthday, Elliot receives an enigmatic postcard inviting him back to town for a high school reunion; he reluctantly attends in hopes of making peace with his old friends, but quickly finds himself ensconced in a mystery surrounding the disappearance of Sonny, who has been teaching at their old high school. Old flame Eden, their spineless classmate Gary (Brian McElhaney), and Elliot’s much detested twin brother Calvin (Nick Kocher) engage in an increasingly complex and violent investigation of Sonny’s whereabouts, gradually incriminating their old principal (Michael Hogan, who is Calvin’s archnemesis) and Eden’s father (who hates Elliot) in some highly dirty deeds.
The film’s strongest points are its sweetest. The strained relationship between brothers Elliot and Calvin is the readiest source of comedy and sentiment onscreen. As Calvin, Kocher provides a steady flow of laughs and general screen charisma — the sideburns certainly don’t hurt. But the movie’s occasional proclivity toward dark-for-the-sake-of-dark, joking callously about killing off characters, seems bent on outshining the lighter elements. Unfortunate, in that the lighter elements are in this case the better elements.
Getting past some of the obstructively dark jokes, there are plenty of elements that work well in the movie. The over-the-top complexity of the plot does blend nicely with the simplicity of the story at heart: a bunch of shmoes just trying to do something right for a change. Depressed Elliot wants to save Sonny and win back his old pals; cowardly Gary just wants to profess his love to Eden once and for all, and perhaps escape his mother’s oppressive grasp; and Calvin, the star of the show, just wants to win his brother’s approval (and maybe exact vengeance on his old principal). The three highly inadequate crime fighters come together after ten years to prove that they, together, can do some good. Marginally, anyway.
The characters might not be expertly crafted, but they’re fun and easy to root for… even though not a one of them is a particularly admirable human specimen. The visuals and fast-paced delivery of the film make for a fantastical, sometimes cartoonish feeling, which makes for a fun watch, especially when some of the more climactic “There’s a mystery afoot!” twists take over. All in all, the movie has enough ups to outweigh the downs. It’s hardly without its lumps, but it’s worth watching just for some of Kocher’s impressive turns of idiocy.
The Blu-ray’s special features include a handful of Making Of segments, detailing the casting of Hogan and narrator Clarke Peters. The real winner among the features is Kocher’s outtake reel, which offers a slew of the actor’s improvised insults directed at frequent collaborator McElhaney’s character Gary.