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Safety Not Guaranteed

2012 | 86 min | R | 2.39:1

Safety Not Guaranteed


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Theatrical release date

 08 June, 2012
 26 December, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Safety Not Guaranteed


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Safety Not Guaranteed Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 14, 2012

“Safety Not Guaranteed” is dramatically all over the map, aching to be the lone movie about time travel that’s not actually about time travel. The lean toward characterization and heartfelt feelings shared between shattered souls is all well and good, yet the emotions are rendered meaningless when funneled into this messy picture. Painfully deadpan (the opening 15 minutes resembles an unofficial sequel to “Napoleon Dynamite”) and meandering, with plenty of dangling plot threads, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is one central recasting and brutal editorial session away from being a lovely little short film, where its mystery and sentiment is more easily controlled and considered.

An intern at a Seattle magazine, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) volunteers for duty when writer Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) pitches a story about a classified ad searching for candidates to experience time travel. With brainy fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) in tow, the threesome head out to meet the mystery figure behind the public notice, who turns out to be an odd, secretive man named Kenneth (Mark Duplass). Hoping to gain his trust, Darius cozies up to the paranoid grocery store clerk, knowing exactly how to play the situation, befriending the backyard scientist, who seems thrilled to finally find a partner worthy of his time. Spending the next few days training for the time jump, Darius sheds her disbelief, growing close to Kenneth, drawn to his conviction and heartbreaking motivation for the journey. Using the research time for his own purposes, Jeff contacts ex-girlfriend Liz (Jenica Bergere), hoping to reconnect and fill his emptiness.

This is not a forceful effort. Director Colin Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly approach “Safety Not Guaranteed” with a decidedly indie cinema approach, armed with low-tech cameras (parts of the film look like they were shot with a cell phone), a quirky plot, and a weird mandate that everyone in the picture remain expressionless. It’s a frustrating sit, enormously so in the opening act, where the feature commences with an exaggerated sense of blankness, establishing Darius as a woman with a single face for every occasion, mummified by the traumas of her life, while Jeff is a cad, using the road trip as a personal vacation, relaxing his journalistic focus to loosen up the gang, including Arnau, a 21-year-old virgin with flames on his gaming laptop. There’s a lot of affected moviemaking to machete through in the early going, which strains to be a comedy of some sort, yet never finds a rhythm to the jokes, dependent on vulgar improvisation from Johnson to introduce what passes for charm here.

Matters perk up immensely once Duplass enters the picture as Kenneth. An openhearted actor, Duplass has the range to articulate his character’s slightly unnerving presence, with the script keeping the clerk’s true time-travel intent under wraps until the finale. Is Kenneth a nut or the second coming of Doc Brown? That’s the question of “Safety Not Guaranteed,” but one that’s pounded into the story with a feather. Connolly’s more concentrated on the vulnerability of the characters, washing away comedy to take the plot seriously, including the infuriating subplot with Jeff, which is handled so poorly, I’m amazed it remains in the finished film. While the writer’s unsteady interactions with his former lover seem like a pass to humanize a lout, it’s actually a lump of unfinished business, introduced and concluded hastily to minimize the impact. Worst of all, Jeff doesn’t learn a thing from the experience, making the side trip meaningless. Although all is not lost, as Bergere provides a natural thespian energy to an otherwise forced production.

There’s unexpected closure to “Safety Not Guaranteed,” and Duplass successfully conveys a need burning within Kenneth to rewind a painful section of his life. While it’s not strenuous work, his alertness is desperately needed around Plaza, who shows no visible range as Darius contemplates the confusing facts and fantasy in front of her. It’s a blank performance that hangs on the film like an anchor, failing to create an abyssal sense of conflict required to give the conclusion its intended lift. “Safety Not Guaranteed” isn’t a bad movie, but one that never quite follows through on its intentions. What’s here crashes in the middle, making a fantastical premise feel utterly mediocre.

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Mark Duplass, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jeff Garlin, Kristen Bell
Director: Colin Trevorrow

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