Imagine Taken, except inexplicably written as a two-hander, sans any actual abduction, and with notes of The Hangover, A Christmas Carol, and the Gob/Tony Wonder storyline in Arrested Development shoehorned in. That’s All Nighter.
The movie stars J.K. Simmons as Frank Gallo, who shows up one day at the apartment of his daughter’s ex-boyfriend, Martin (Emile Hirsch), unaware that they’re no longer together, as her cellphone’s gone dead and he’s lost contact. Naturally, they then go traipsing all over L.A. looking for her over the course of one night. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all there is to it. There aren’t any stakes — “harrowing” here amounts to arguments as to whether or not to call Frank’s ex-wife, a dildo shaped like a gun, and a tame instance of breaking and entering. For a while, the movie tries to pretend it’s got something else up its sleeve by making it unclear exactly what Frank does for a living, but it’s a fuse that fizzles out instead of catching fire.
It’s a baffling movie for having a premise so simple, as it takes such pains to differentiate itself from the now well-populated genre of badass dads looking for their wives/daughters/loved ones that it manages to put itself into a sort of non-genre. Too many things are up in the air for any of them to work. The movie wants to be Taken but it wants to be funny, too. It wants us to take Martin seriously but continues to undermine him. It wants its emotional beats to land but doesn’t provide quite enough build-up or context for them to make an impact. But worst of all, it can’t seem to make up its mind about having one or two leads. It could be a story about a workaholic father looking for redemption in the eyes of his daughter, or it could be a story about a heartbroken musician (Martin plays the banjo) finding his way back into everyday life after a bad break-up. It ends up being a little of both, and therefore fully neither.
This largely comes down to the fact that it constantly feels like Emile Hirsch could be jettisoned without any cost to the movie. J.K. Simmons dominates All Nighter, in part because the movie is absolutely enamored with him. People clear the way for him whenever he goes (and those who don’t, he lays flat), and almost every woman they meet expresses at least some degree of attraction to him. The entire movie is predicated on the reputation J.K. Simmons has built up as a hardass. All of this begs the question of why All Nighter is structured as a two-hander. Maybe it’s meant to try to hook a younger demographic, but regardless, it doesn’t quite work. Then there’s the fact that the daughter in question (Analeigh Tipton) is unfortunately just an object rather than a real character. She’s never fleshed out, to the point that it’s hard to care whether she gets found or not.
All that said, clocking in at just under an hour and a half, All Nighter is mostly harmless. J.K. Simmons does more than should be humanly possible with the material he’s given, and Kristen Schaal is, as always, lovely in a small role as one of Martin’s friends. The story’s just chaff; the movie’s worth seeing for its performances if you’re a fan of those involved. Otherwise, it’s forgettable, just like the last hours of being up all night.