In Michael Bays Armageddon, Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and their posse borrow a couple of shuttles and head out into space to blow up an asteroid thats heading straight for Earth. Its got bad dialogue and a terrible Aerosmith song, and theres never really much doubt about whether theyre going to succeed. Youve probably seen it, but if you havent, heres a spoiler: Willis sacrifices himself to save all of us. Thanks, man.
In the initial moments of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which opens Friday, June 22, we learn that a similar team of scientists and astronauts totally failed, an asteroid is still barreling toward us and everyone on the planet has just three weeks to live. Thats it. Theres nothing to be done. Were completely fucked. And that, my friends, is a terrific way to start a movie. Its a great idea, and director Lorene Scafaria, who also wrote the screenplay, follows with an absolutely inspired first act thats just searing dark comedy.
The problem, though, is that she doesnt seem to know where to go from there—or, more specifically, she feels she has to leave that paradigm and move to something more serious. So, when the film begins, youre dealing with a hysterically funny breakdown of society. By the time you get to the end, the mood has grown considerably more somber, and, in the middle, theres a meandering road movie that feels like its pandering to an audience that cant wait for The Hangover 3.
In the midst of all this is Dodge, played by Steve Carell. His wife has left, and hes adrift, even though all his friends are binge drinking, experimenting with serious drugs and having as much promiscuous sex as possible, because—well, why the hell not? But Dodge doesnt know what to do with himself. Also, hes an insurance salesman, so you know hes uptight and straight-laced. His downstairs neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), on the other hand, is a free spirit, so you know shes flaky and into vinyl, and once theyve met over a crying jag on the fire escape, the two find themselves bonding over their impending fate. (Scafaria has a history of putting people who have nothing in common together—she wrote Nick and Norahs Infinite Playlist.) Once things start to fall apart for Dodge and Penny, they find themselves on the road together. Hes seeking the one that got away, she wants to see her family across the ocean. Both of them are going to die.
Once it hits the road, though, this movie loses its way. It turns out that its more enjoyable to watch humanity sort out its imminent demise than it is to watch Dodge deal with his problems. Dodge and Pennys needs arent as interesting as the larger breakdown of civilization, especially when youve got a guy like Patton Oswalt trying to get with as many women as possible. Famous faces pop up throughout the film, but they frequently serve to slow the story down rather than get our characters where theyre going.
Now, that isnt to say that its all bad. Carell is back in his Crazy, Stupid, Love mode—charming, sweet and pitiable—and Knightley is terrifically enjoyable, doing her most interesting work in some time. But the chemistry between them doesnt sizzle, and when we get to the end, when we get to the moment of truth, its hard to understand why these two woe-begotten souls cling to one another. Also, to be honest, its a bit disconcerting that the film ends the way it does; it feels miles away from the opening act.
That makes sense, I guess, because at the end of the day, the end of the world is deathly serious. I just preferred the part of this film that isnt.
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