It seems as if every film conceived and shot during the COVID lockdown found one novel way to turn the restrictions, claustrophobic stir-craziness and isolation conditions into an asset.
“7 Days” got the most out of the least. But if you cast two funny people with chemistry, that “lockdown happens during their first date” two-character romance can work.
“Stop and Go” took the lockdown on the road, two friends traveling to rescue one’s grandmother, who won’t be able to survive with closed stores and no contact or help from the outside world.
“Family Squares” got laughs out of the Zoom call split screen gimmick. “The Same Storm” drew a bigger cast and got more humor and a lot of pathos out of lives reduced to contact via Zoom. It’s the best of the lot.
And the farcical “The Disappearance of Toby Blackwood” manages a snappy Facetime cell phone montage of interviews with crackpots, the “subscribers” of a missing Youtube survivalist whose disappearance is investigated, from the comforts of their own homes, by a just-dumped guy who went to middle school with the missing nut, and a pal who is amped-up just to have something to do during lockdown.
The writing and one would assume improvising opportunities drew the biggest names in the cast in for quick-and-dirty cell phone questioning cameos that offered the chance to go down the rabbit hole of crackpot conspiracies played for breathless, ranting laughs.
“It’s the reptilians. It’s ALWAYS the reptilians!”
Here’s comic Maggie Maye, veteran character actor Luiz Guzman downloading this or that crazy theory. Joseph Russo and Jeremy Luke play sketchy, wired cousins worried and threatening anybody who might name them as “suspects” in this disappearance.
And is that Brit-accented loon with the beard really Simon Pegg?
“You find Dean Koontz, you find Toby Blackwood!”
Director, star and co-writer Joe Ahern has done a lot of things in front of and behind the camera for TV and film. He plays just-dumped Wes, who learns that nobody’s heard from this old friend who went nuts and got popular for it as the host of hundreds of insanely-stupid survivalist episodes of “Take Charge with Toby.”
“Always assume everybody’s out to get you.,” Toby Blackwood (co-writer Doug Mellard) preaches. “And that’s how you start a fire with spicy mustard and tin foil,” he says on another episode. “Remember, you’re gonna need a LOTTA gasoline, and matches!”
Among all his supportive get-together-on-Zoom friends, the one Wes listens to is the always-drinking or lighting up a pipe Luke (Grant Harvey), who has gotten into Toby’s videos and is bored enough to become obsessed, egging Wes in joining him for a social-distanced investigation while sheltering in place.
Depressed Wes starts wondering if Toby’s crank fans, his crackpot girlfriend (Dana DeLorenzo) or those sketchy cousins had something to do with his disappearance.
Then again, maybe he took on a “mission” to find the “real” Area 51, “where Bill Gates INVENTED this pandemic” and the vaccine, “which plants microchips” in everyone who takes it, helping facilitate some Amazon oligarchy global takeover.
Todd Giebenhain scores points as a private eye they consult whose chief training for the gig might have been watching “Cagney & Lacy” as a kid and who dresses like a thousand down-and-out TV gumshoes, the ones based in Florida retirement communities.
“Toby” himself is a funny creation, although the dopy videos he’s made, interspersed throughout the movie, lose their comic sting thanks to over-exposure.
“Disappearance” is a movie that begins with a little promise, peaks with that long montage of “sheeple” hating conspiracy nuts early on, and kind of sputters and limps to the finish line.
The leads are amusing in tiny doses, but even the funniest lockdown screenwriting wouldn’t have given them screen presence or a charismatic pop to the their punch-lining.
Like most make-work-with-our-down-time pandemic film projects, “Disappearance” is a sketch comedy idea that overstays its welcome, a short film that feels too long because it lacked enough top flight comic talent to make it come off.
Rating: unrated, a bloody injury, drug abuse, drinking and lots of profanity
Cast: Joe Ahern, Grant Harvey, Doug Mellard, Dana DeLorenzo, Natasha Hall, and Todd Giebenhain, with Luiz Guzman, Maggie Maye, Joseph Russo and Simon Pegg
Credits: Directed by Joe Ahern, scripted by Joe Ahern and Doug Mellard. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:17