Gavin Wiesen’s All Nighter sets out to breathe life into the tired trope of a hyper-masculine, overprotective father pitted against his daughter’s nebbish boyfriend by constantly shifting its genre allegiances, and clumsily so. This is alternately a mystery, a mismatched-buddy movie, and inspirational redemptive drama, and in its transition between these and other modes the film reveals itself to be a cinematic jack of all trades and a master of none. It’s never quite funny enough as comedy, intriguing enough as a mystery, or grounded enough for its pat, emotional moments to land with any gravitas.
After opening with a brief scene of Martin (Emile Hirsch) meeting his girlfriend Gillie’s (Analeigh Tipton) intense father, Mr. Gallo (J.K. Simmons), All Nighter cuts to six months later when the couple is broken up. Absent for much of Gillie’s life because of work-related travel, Gallo frantically returns to Los Angeles to search for his daughter, who hasn’t been returning his calls. Gallo, unaware of Gillie and Martin’s recent breakup, recruits Martin to help him find Gillie, and the two spend the whole night scouring the streets of the city in search of his daughter. The scenario immediately and conspicuously announces itself as an easy means for Martin’s sensitivity and lack of direction to be placed in the crosshairs of the perpetually scornful Gallo.
All Nighter’s shaky foundation is built on painfully outdated notions of masculinity, and further weakened by its failure to provide either compelling reasons for Gallo’s sudden concern for Gillie’s well-being or signs of a potentially compelling story behind her disappearance. The film forgoes a logical follow-through of its own setup, obsessing over the odd coupling of Gallo and Martin without ever providing an ostensible reason for Martin’s continued involvement in the search for Gillie when he’s given no evidence that she’s in any real danger. As the duo follow the breadcrumb trail from one of Martin and Gillie’s acquaintances to the next, additional characters are introduced simply to provide the intimidating, alpha-male Gallo with a variety of character quirks and weaknesses to deride.
The film takes glee in the indoctrination of Martin into the ways of Gallo’s life. After the two men bond over their shared love of Bob Seger, Martin is soon being convinced to eat red meat for the first time in years. And while Martin may promptly puke afterward, he continues to embrace Gallo’s macho bona fides, not least of which because they bring him a newfound confidence around women. But whether Martin is simply getting his testosterone-infused groove back or transforming into a mere facsimile of Gallo isn’t of any concern to the filmmakers. Coupled, though, with its refusal to get into the nitty gritty of Gallo’s negative impact on his daughter’s life or treat the resolution of Gillie’s disappearance as anything more than an afterthought, All Nighter is at least consistent about matching its half-formed story ambitions and character motivations with its muddled and troubling philosophical beliefs.