2022, R, 94 min. Directed by Deborah Neil-Fisher. Starring Eva Longoria, Lea Thompson, Matt Walsh, Keith David, Hala Finley, Johnny Pemberton, Al Madrigal, Gail Cronauer.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 22, 2022

Shot during the course of the pandemic without specifically commenting on it outright, The Hangover series editor Neil-Fisher’s feature debut attempts to comment on a growing societal dysfunction afflicting hundreds of millions of adults and kiddos alike: Too much time spent staring at our subversive little black mirrors is unhealthy. Whether in the name of our already stressy and out-of-whack work-life ratios or by simply deep-diving into the rabbit hole of Wikipedia for just a moment that magically turns into four suddenly vanished hours, our over reliance on our iEverythings is fragmenting not only the political and pop-cultural zeitgeist but also what it means to be part of a traditional nuclear family. To paraphrase pioneering futurist, computer scientist, and philosopher Jaron Lanier, you are not your gadget. But for countless tech-savvy Homo sapiens, such warnings go unheeded.

In Neil-Fisher’s rom-com-ish riposte, Jeanine and Dan (Longoria and Walsh, respectively) are a happily married couple raising a teenage daughter (Finley) in Chicago. Mom is a workaholic commercial leasing director and former attorney who’s glued to her iPhone 24/7 while house-husband Dan runs an artisanal hot sauce micro-business out of the family’s garage. Alas, the “happily” part of their marriage is in danger of disintegrating due to familial technocracy. When Jeanine’s boss orders her to take a two-week “mandatory sabbatical” after her techy enthusiasm goes one workplace email too far (a fact she fails to mention to her husband), Dan decides what this faltering and apparently sexless relationship needs is a digital detox: a three-day weekend in the countryside with no phones, tablets, or other distracting gadgetry. It’s just the two of them (and some edibles) in a rough-hewn cabin in the woods with barely any cell service to complicate matters. For a while the getaway seems to be working, but they’ve both snuck in their phones, which leads to a comically desperate search for reception and mutual bickering. So much for that rustic sexytime holiday.

Walsh co-wrote the script with Brad Morris, and while the premise is solid, Unplugging struggles to find the right balance between comedy and serious social criticism. As the more chill Dan, Walsh is technically the voice of reason, literally crying out in the wilderness because – irony of ironies – a cell signal evades him. There’s an unnecessary and unexplained subplot about mysterious, possibly military drones chasing the couple across hill and dale, which may be an attempt to link their own overuse of technology with that of Big Brother. Thompson shows up, also without any real reason, as a local survivalist with a raccoon named LuLu, and the always welcome Keith David gets a cameo as a funky bartender.

Unfortunately for a film that has so much to say about a topic of great import, Unplugging is hamstrung by its ricocheting tone and undercut by sequences that probably provoked chuckles during the initial read-through but too often fall flat in the finished product. That’s a shame because – oh, hang on a sec, would you? I’ve got an incoming text. Just, you know, I’ll be right back. Promise.

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Unplugging, Deborah Neil-Fisher, Eva Longoria, Lea Thompson, Matt Walsh, Keith David, Hala Finley, Johnny Pemberton, Al Madrigal, Gail Cronauer

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