Monday, June 18, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

Not my initial plan for Sunday morning, but who'd'a thunk a 10am screening of something that played a year ago would sell out? But, hey, this doesn't make a bad plan B at all, especially for $6 at the early show.

A couple things I really liked that didn't entirely fit in the review: I mentioned that I liked the feeling of a seaside town after tourist season, which reminded me of York Beach, Maine, where we used to have family (still may, although it'd be second cousins at the closest). It's amazing how those places change once Labor Day passes.



... I kind of loved the way it ended. As it went on, I found myself a little disappointed by how grounded it was, because, honestly, I love the idea of someone so passionate about something that he or she did the impossible in response, and it impressed me quite a bit that this movie got there without feeling like it was selling the rest of the story out. And, honestly, I loved the time machine they built. Design-wise, it's just a beautiful example of steampunk-influenced mad science even though it isn't self-conscious about it. It looks good but also much less concerned with aesthetics than the typical steampunk construct.


So, good stuff. I just wish I could remember the actual sci-fi book that I know starts with almost the exact same hook. I swear I read the same description in a blurb from the Science Fiction Book Club when I was a teenager, but now, well, good luck trying to search for that sort of thing on Google without getting a whole bunch of Safety Not Guaranteed as a result.

Or I might be mistaken. After all, if this was as direct a lift as my (dodgy) memory says, you'd think someone would have spoken up. On the other hand, if this was a golden age story - which seems pretty likely; the "bring your own weapons / safety not guaranteed" angle certainly seems much more like that sort of 1920s-1950s adventure tale than this sort of indie movie - the original author may not be around, the book may be out of print, and whoever has the rights might not even know he/she has them.

Safety Not Guaranteed

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 June 2012 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, Sony Digital 4K)

The title of Safety Not Guaranteed comes from a classified ad that one character places, inspired by a real-life posting along the same lines; I'm pretty sure I recall seeing it as the hook to a science fiction adventure novel as well. That's not exactly the direction this movie takes, which is fine; it makes its offbeat premise work a lot better than you might expect.

That classified ad, claiming that time travel is possible and its inventor is looking for armed backup for his first trip. This attracts the attention of Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), a writer at Seattle Magazine, who sells his editor on it as a story, and so he goes up to Ocean View with two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni). A little investigation reveals that the ad was placed by Kenneth (Mark Duplass), who works in a supermarket and seems pretty eccentric. And while Jeff gets sent away when he tries to answer Kenneth's ad - which is fine; he's mostly looking to hook up with an old girlfriend (Jenica Bergere) - Darius and Kenneth connect. But is he a harmless crackpot, or a real cause for concern?

Writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow aren't playing things particularly coy here; each of the three main characters has something in his or her past that drives their actions. Sure, Kenneth is the one who claims to be building a time machine to roll back his regrets, but what Jeff's doing is the same idea - he's just trying to go back to the place where things made sense physically rather than temporally. Darius, despite being the youngest of them, is too cynical and wounded to believe that things can get better.

Full review at EFC.


Anonymous said...

Here's an alternate review. We seem to agree on most of the film's pluses, but, Jay chooses to ignore the film's structural problems, IMHOP:

Jason said...

Well, I don't know that the structural problems L.A. mentions are that bad - I think Jake Johnson's character is pretty useful, demonstrating that "going back" is not a solution.

The plot does have some holes you could drive a truck through, but in a romantic comedy, I think the jokes are good enough to make the trade-off.