Will Merrick and Nicholas D. Johnson, directors of the new tech-savvy thriller “Missing” tap back into familiar territory as the duo previously worked as editors on Aneesh Chaganty’s 2018 film “Searching” starring John Cho as a father desperately trying to find his missing daughter using smartphones and computers.  In this standalone sequel, the script is flipped as a daughter, played by Storm Reid (“Euphoria”), scours the internet and social media to track down her missing mother (Nia Long). Despite the similarities to its predecessor, the material feels fresh thanks to Reid’s performance with Portuguese actor Joaquim de Almeida giving the film an extra boost. 

June (Storm Reid), or as her mother calls her “Junebug,” is a typical 18-year-old whose smartphone is attached at the hip.  When she’s not on her cell she’s on her MacBook or hanging with BFF Veena (Megan Suri), usually while fielding accidental FaceTime calls from her mother Grace (Nia Long) who is not tech-savvy.

The film opens with old camcorder footage of June as a child (Ava Zaria Lee) playing with her father James (Tim Griffin).  We learn that he passed away from Cancer a short time after that final family vacation 12 years ago and now that Father’s Day is approaching, she’s feeling despondent.  The only memory of her father is the short AVI clip stored on her computer’s desktop.

To make matters worse, June will be alone on Father’s Day as Grace and her new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung) head to Colombia for a romantic weekend getaway.  But no worries, thanks to the emergency funds mom deposited in her bank account, June plans on holding a booze-filled all-night rager while avoiding detection by her mother’s best friend and lawyer Heather (Amy Landecker). 

When June arrives at the airport on Monday to pick up her mother and Kevin, they never show up.  She tries calling her mom but can’t reach her, so June goes back home and jumps online to begin investigating. Using Google Translate to communicate with the hotel in Colombia, she discovers that Grace and Kevin left without their luggage.  Next move?  Security footage. 

Since June can’t hop on a plane to Colombia, she jumps on the country’s version of TaskRabbit, where you hire people for errands, repairs, etc., and employs the cheapest person available, in this case, Javier (Joaquim de Almeida) who becomes her international proxy, going here and there at June’s bidding while she traces her mother’s digital footprint to uncover her whereabouts. There is no security footage so Javier begins asking around looking for leads. Next stop, a hardware store where Kevin purchased a padlock. Hmm, the mystery deepens.

Despite the varying degrees of implausibility, first-time directors Merrick and Johnson succeed in building tension, at times spasmodic but reoccurring.  Reid carries the film since she’s on camera 98% of the time interreacting with other characters on various screens.  It’s a good performance that feels more authentic than the story itself which is more concerned with demonstrating how easy it is to hack into Gmail accounts, social media, dating websites, and smartphones (if you’re 18) rather than expanding on the mysterious backstory involving Grace, Kevin, and June’s deceased father James.

Veteran Portuguese actor Joaquim de Almeida, who’s been entertaining us since the 90s in films that include “Desperado” and “Clear and Present Danger” gives the thriller a welcomed boost, it’s a shame he doesn’t get more screen time which can also be said about the wonderful Nia Long. The filmmakers should have tapped into Grace’s interesting backstory, instead, it’s saved for a rushed finale.

“Missing” is not a sequel to “Searching” so it doesn’t matter if you didn’t see the 2018 film.  It is however the start of an anthology of like-minded films with the same premise.  June’s ability to hack into virtually anything won’t feel bogus to parents of Gen Zr’s whose lightning-fast reflexes can snatch any electronic device out of your hand and correct what you’re doing wrong in a matter of seconds, but too many elements of the story rely on you suspending logic and going with the flow.  Reid made it easy to do that several times.

(2 ½ stars)

Now showing in theaters    

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Joe Friar head and shoulders

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.