Movie Review: A Teen and her Computer, “Searching” for her “Missing” Mom

Hiring the editors from “Searching,” the sleeper hit of a few years back about a father (John Cho) hunting for his missing daughter via her digital/social media footprint, pays off with “Missing,” a sort of sequel from the same studio, Screen Gems.

If you were paying attention to that fascinating “work the problem online” thriller, you noticed it was a triumph of gimmicky computer screen mirroring, letting us see what every clicked link, every typed-in search turned up in real (screen) time.

How’s that achieved? Through editing, kids. So, congratulations to Will Merrick and Nicholas D. Johnson for making the jump from editing that film to directing in this screens-within-screens, blizzard-of-cuts technical marvel of a movie. There are thousands of edits in this sequel.

But it also points at what’s missing from “Missing.” What happens when we spend too much time on our screens? Disconnection. This overly-complex, relatable but bizarrely set-up missing person hunt stumbles in its human elements, and falls apart if you give the overall plot any thought at all.

The idea here is to flip the script about who’s doing the “searching.” A teen, played by Storm Reid of “A Wrinkle in Time,” is left alone in Van Nuys whilst her single mom (Nia Long) takes a long-weekend romantic vacation to Cartagena, Colombia with her new beaut (Ken Leung).

The kid searches “How to throw a rager on a budget” while Mom is gone, and cleverly taskrabbits the after-party cleanup as she dashes to the airport to pick them back up on Sunday.

But Mom and Kevin are no-shows at the airport. They never got on the plane. What happened?

The genius of these movies is in their “work the problem online” primers. What can a tech-savvy teen turn up about Mom and Kevin, their itinerary, whereabouts, purchases, communications and what-not just by figuring out their (too easy to crack) passwords?

“Kevin seem like a ‘one-password’ guy to you,” daughter June queries her rager-planner bestie Veena (Megan Suri, reduced to set dressing here)?

June communicates with the hotel where they were staying via online Spanish translation, hacks into email and even the dating website where the adults met so that she and the movie audience can see the nature of their video messaging courtship and get to know our two lovebirds.

“Junebug,” as her Mom calls her, back-engineers ways of getting into this account or that one, grabs credit card numbers, accesses “live cams” in tourist locations, tracks phones, pokes around Google Street View, Google Maps, and on and on in her typo-free keyboard hunt.

The FBI agent on the ground in Cartagena (Daniel Henney) is just here to remind us of what he can’t “legally” do. Mom’s lawyer best-friend (Amy Landecker) is just here to remind June of what SHE can’t legally do.

And Joaquin de Almeida is the cheapest “task rabbit” proxy June can find to do her legwork in Colombia, tracing her mother’s footsteps.

The far-fetched stuff comes from the amount of media coverage these missing-in-Colombia (I don’t care WHAT year it is, think about that.) generate, the layers of contrived “conspiracy” June starts to believe she’s digging into and the mental math one can’t help but do to wonder, aside from governments, oligarchs and narco-terrorists, who has the time and MONEY to make all this happen?

However neatly these contrivances may seem to fold in and wrap up — not all THAT neatly — a certain amount of “Now come ON” factors into the viewing. And not just from the fact that Junebug almost never hits an errant key.

Reid is more solid that compelling as the face captured in cell or laptop screen-cam closeups for much of the movie. The performance has no grace notes because there isn’t any room for them. That goes for everybody in “Missing,” with lots of characters shortchanged and any emotional moments that are set up simply allowed to fizzle in the payoff.

John Cho didn’t let that happen in “Searching.”

This picture’s just a clockwork contraption of clever “tools” used cleverly and little more, none of them more than Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere or whatever editing software they used to cut this sterile jewel into shape with.

Rating: PG-13 for some strong violence, language, teen drinking, and thematic material.

Cast: Storm Reid, Joaquin de Almeida, Ken Leung, Amy Landecker, Tim Griffin and Nia Long

Credits: Directed by Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick, scripted by A Screen Gems release.

Running time: 1:51

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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