After years of doing servile work in supporting roles, playing tough cops, neo-Nazis, homosexual prison predators and assorted villains in video games, J.K. Simmons has parlayed his 2014 Oscar for the critically acclaimed Whiplash into a new career of non-stop work, accepting one job after the next. He’s making up for lost time and it’s always fun to see what he’ll do next. The choices he makes, I’m sorry to say, are not always as welcome as he is. The latest example is a lazy snooze masquerading as a throwaway comedy called All Nighter. He should have stayed in bed.
ALL NIGHTER ★
Directed by: Gavin Wiesen
Written by: Seth W. Owen
Starring: Analeigh Tipton, Emile Hirsch and J.K. Simmons
Running time: 80 mins.
Pausing after a flight home from Singapore, work-obsessed Frank Gallo (Simmons), a macho businessman with no quality time for a personal life, makes a rare stop in L.A. to take his estranged daughter Ginnie (Analeigh Tipton) to dinner. Saddled with her boyfriend Martin (Emile Hirsch), the father-daughter reunion turns disastrous. Mr. Gallo finds nothing tolerable about the goofy, awkward, and socially unacceptable Martin, a bearded, banjo-playing vegetarian allergic to wine, shoelaces and rare steaks who spills food all over Ginnie’s father’s blue suit. Apparently, Ginnie loses hope, too, because six months later, when Mr. Gallo appears again, looking for his daughter, he finds her missing without a trace, replaced by Martin’s new roommate, a weed-smoking clod attached to a portable bong. Understandably unnerved, he reluctantly enlists Martin’s help to find Ginnie with one ridiculous result after another, in a contrived narrative pieced together with chewing gum and spit.
Because Martin doesn’t have a license and doesn’t know how to drive anyway, Mr. Gallo takes the wheel and this mismatched pair follows dead-end leads to old apartments were Ginnie no longer lives, organic restaurants were she no longer works, and collisions with trashy girls and tattooed lady yoga instructors she no longer knows, traipsing all over L.A. in a futile search for the missing Ginnie while confronting a roundup of the stupidest stoners in West Hollywood. Mr. Gallo is not designed to be a likable teddy bear of a character. He’s intolerant, implacable and terminally grouchy, but considering how creepy and brain-dead everyone else is, his dismay is profoundly appreciated.
For one day and night, this generation-gap odd couple struggles to keep the plot going, but despite J.K. Simmons’ gruff charm and inarguable charisma, the movie is so slight it vanishes without a trace faster than the dislocated Ginnie. Without a proper script, Mr. Simmons just seems as unexceptional as the next garden variety working-stiff character member of the Screen Actors Guild in the line for unemployment insurance. The screenplay by Seth W. Owen is so desperate it even forces him to say “I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two”, paraphrasing the punch line from his State Farm Mutual commercials. He gives it his best shot, even going so far as to parade around wearing a pink sequined woman’s blouse, but the direction by Gavin Wiesen is dead on arrival. It ends, predictably with a police chase and the preposterous notion that one night on the town in underground L.A. can make best friends out of an alpha male who makes an incomprehensible living procuring goods for foreign governments (i.e., moving 20 tons of corn feed from Germany to Nigeria) and a clueless nerd who plays the banjo with a rock band.
All Nighter is an alleged comedy that doesn’t know how to be funny. But at 80 minutes long, it does know how to be merciful.