Directed by Debra Neil-Fisher.
Starring Eva Longoria, Matt Walsh, Nicole Byer, Al Madrigal, Lea Thompson, Keith David, Skylar Gray, Kevin Wayne, Johnny Pemberton, Nancy Friedrich, and Brad Morris.
Think a rustic getaway with no cell service, Internet or social media is a romantic way to repair your marriage and sex life? Think again. Meet Dan and Jeanine Dewerson. The only spark in their bedroom is from the wall socket. Their daughter’s best friend is her iPad. Dan’s not going to take it anymore and plans a quiet, relaxing weekend in a remote mountain town. No kids, no phones, no social media, only clean fresh air and lots of romance. But what starts as the perfect weekend quickly becomes disastrous with unearthly encounters, strong edibles, cranky locals, and a pesky one-eyed dog. Without GPS to guide them or social media to stave off their boredom, Dan and Jeanine are forced to reconnect with each other. Can a “digital detox” really save their marriage and their sanity?
It only took about ten minutes before I wanted to unplug my Internet while watching Unplugging. Directed by Debra Neil-Fisher, with Brad Morris and Matt Walsh (one of the film’s co-leads) handling the script, everything about this comedy-thriller hybrid frequently feels like it has no idea what it wants to be, ensuring nearly all of it falls flat. There’s a sense that the writers are pushing back against one another, with one opting for a more grounded approach to finding a balance between technology usage. In contrast, the other wants to embrace the mysterious elements at play but has been refrained from pushing the proceedings into the more ludicrous tone it badly needs.
Dan and Jeanine Dewerson (played by Matt Walsh and Eva Longoria, respectively) are somewhat happily married to a young daughter Elizabeth (Hala Finley). She works in advertising, and he has a floundering career as a hot sauce entrepreneur. Both struggle with screen time; she is chronically online, sending business emails during the night, whereas he has lost all motivation and can’t even muster up the energy to respond to a job proposition. Amusingly, he spends his alone time playing Sea of Thieves, the ridiculously hyped Microsoft exclusive that bombed right out of the gate because, after about three hours of playing the game, players had seen everything there was to do, and so the game quickly became repetitive and boring. That game and Unplugging seem to have something in common.
Following the unexpected death of Dan’s friendly UPS contact Juan (Al Madrigal), who had been preaching communication and reconnection with the world at large, and a two-week sabbatical given to Jeanine for a combination of overworking herself and creating some ghastly digital greeting cards, they depart from Chicago to a remote cabin somewhere in Indiana to work on various problems (grandma watches over Elizabeth). Some strange locals and unexplainable occurrences also crop up, ranging from a crazed conspiracy theorist played by Lea Thompson and inexplicably fried electronics. Whether it’s intended to be suspenseful or not, there’s no exciting reveal behind it.
However, there are plenty of embarrassing attempts at comedy (at one point, a character must wear a tampon as a bandage) that don’t work because the script and direction are too busy trying to play most of this straight when it needs to lean into the ludicrous parts. Even gags that could potentially lead somewhere funny (during a moment of trying to rekindle some sexual intimacy, Dan gets his head stuck pinned up against the car steering wheel while attempting to pleasure Jeanine as she commandeers the vehicle) never take off or elevate into wacky hijinks. Other moments fall back on tired tropes such as drug trips and temporarily going separate ways. Even a cut-off voicemail suggesting that their daughter could be in the hospital for something dangerous feels cheap and lazy. Then some bits go nowhere, like Dan becoming a skunk owner.
Making this all the more painful to sit through is a lack of chemistry from the leads, although Eva Longoria is trying and far and away the only decent aspect here. There’s nothing funny or surprising about Unplugging as it lumbers along, delivering its no-brainer, cliché digital age message.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com