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Hacking, not shoe-leather, solves the thriller “Missing”

Hacking, not shoe-leather, solves the thriller “Missing”

By MARK KENNEDY

AP Entertainment Writer

June Allen’s mother has disappeared during a romantic vacation with her boyfriend to Colombia as “Missing” begins to gather momentum. The FBI is supposedly on it, with a special agent telling June, “The best thing you can do is wait by the phone.” Wait by the phone? You don’t know June Allen, mate.

Audiences get to see 18-year-old June’s quick mind and even quicker fingers as the teenager uses all the modern tools at her disposal to solve the mystery in this superbly constructed and satisfying thriller from the directing and writing team of Will Merrick and Nick Johnson.

It’s true that June (“A Wrinkle in Time” star Storm Reid) is mostly on the phone in her Los Angeles home, but she doesn’t wait: When Mom doesn’t return as expected, June checks her reservations, uses Google Street View to inspect the Colombian hotel and notices that it has security cameras installed. She then calls the front desk and, using Spanish translation software, learns that the security tape is overwritten every 48 hours.

So June contacts the FBI—making sure to find and inspect the agent’s online credentials—but also finding and hiring a local Colombian—thanks Venmo—to shoot the video and be her eyes and ears on the ground via that nation’s equivalent of TaskRabbit. Then she sifts through credit card receipts, iPhone locator services, live tourist cams and tons of web searches to get closer to the truth, much better than the deluge of mean online news that sometimes invades June’s screen.

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“Missing,” which builds on the related 2018 film “Searching,” manages to make a small-screen movie feel electric on a big one. June stands shoulder to shoulder with all the other civilians who are pushed to be world-class detectives, like Veronica Mars or Jessica Fletcher. Only the tools have changed, and a noticeable lack of shoe leather is needed. June shows a real knack for guessing passwords and her cut and paste game is fierce.

At one point, we see June’s laptop screen—a mess of open Sticky Notes, Zillow listings, reverse phone lookups, blocked Twitter tabs, MapQuest directions, and new bookmarked contacts—and realize that what we’re looking at is the 2023 equivalent of the so-called the “murder board”, a reliable collage of random suspect photos pinned to a cork board and connected with twine. “Missing” doesn’t need twine – it’s pure Gen-Z know-how flex.

Merrick and Johnson have so many twists and turns up their sleeve that you might feel like you might also have something to do with the disappearance of June’s mother (Nia Long, always a delight.) People tend to arrive in June’s frame of reference, so to be suspected before you finally get off the hook. But not everything. Your attention won’t linger, despite the fact that 80 percent of the film is watching tiny screens open and close on June’s laptop.

There’s also a not-so-subtle lesson here about personal secrecy — or the lack thereof. June becomes a hacker who carefully tests passwords knowing that users often repeat them across devices, and she gains access to supposedly secure places, such as her mother’s profile on a fictional dating app. She goes through text logs as easily as court documents, and when she can’t figure out the password for something, she just hits the “Forgot Password” button and a new one is sent to her. She even finds clues in secrets her mother has been hiding for more than a decade. You could be forgiven if you go home after watching this movie and trigger two-factor authentication on all your stuff.

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What’s most fascinating about “Missing” is that it’s a teenager who saves his Gen X mother using technology that mother barely knows. We’re so often dismissive of young adults—from their addiction to TikTok dances to their alleged unreliability—but you want none other than June Allen to look after you when you’re missing. Sherlock Holmes would still be stuck waiting for a flight out of LAX.

“Missing,” a Sony Pictures exclusive theatrical release, is rated PG-13 for “some strong violence, language, teenage drinking and thematic material.” Playing time: 111 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

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MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under the age of 13.

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