It would really suck if we found out a meteor was careening toward earth, set to end all life in a matter of days. But as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World teaches, there would be a silver lining for lonely dudes. Ladies would get crazy desperate, dropping their standards lower than they would at a dive bar on New Year's Eve at 11:59.
That's great news for Dodge (Steve Carell), a newly-single 50-year-old insurance salesman, who can suddenly get picky when it comes to romance. In the movie's first few scenes, he turns away middle-aged women who throw themselves at him, holding out for 20-something stunner Penny (Keira Knightley), who leaps through his apartment window and into his arms in the first of many scenes that make you go "hmm."
Never mind that Dodge's facial expression is permanently set to "constipated" or that he's got the personality of a dead dung beetle. Thanks to the meteor, he's a prime hunk of man meat in the eyes of Penny. Dodge is a suitable partner for an end-of-days travelogue, in which the couple wanders aimlessly through a realm of impromptu beach parties, Doritos-munching survivalists, bar-and-grill orgies, suicidal truckers and red-hot sex inside a car. Meteor, you are totally the best wing man ever.
Turns out the coming obliteration of creation not only distorts the judgment of romantic leads, but also filmmakers.
First-time writer/director Lauren Scafaria really wants you to root for her doomed lovebirds as she sends them through a gauntlet of tired screenwriting tropes, but the most sympathetic character ends up being the meteor, whom you wish will hurry the heck up and squash all these idiots. Dodge and Penny's plan seems to be to bore the meteor to death.
The movie is the type that gives think-piece indies a bad name. The parade of quirky characters are meant to be cute and unpredictable, but turn out as irritating and nonsensical. The script calls for Carell to spend too much time staring into the abyss, his craggy, vacant eyes revealing not only his character's regret for having wasted his time, but the actor's decision to sign up for this mess.
Knightley shows a little more life, and she deserves credit for resisting the urge to wince whenever she leans in to smooch Carell, but there's not much for her to do other than whining about wanting to fly to England to visit her parents.
Scafaria could have had a some more fun showing how urban areas would shut down if there was no tomorrow, but she keeps her characters out in the country, fleeing the riots and looting.
The concept would have had a better chance of success if it let Carell flex his comedic muscles, seeking out gallows humor in the end of existence, rather than sticking with its slow, somber vibe. With the talent onhand, the world could have ended with a bang, not a whimper.
Starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria. Rated R. 104 minutes.
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