Say what you will about the number of recent critically panned Steve Carell films, but his star is typically a big box office draw as so-so films like “Get Smart,” “Date Night,” and “Dinner for Schmucks” have each pulled in at least $70 million in lifetime gross (credit: boxofficemojo.com). Teaming with Keira Knightley, this weekend marks Carell’s return to the big screen with “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” (R), which despite a cavalcade of comedic talents making cameos throughout, is at its core- a dramatic love tale. Unfortunately, even the fascinating storyline of an asteroid headed toward the earth causing the planet’s certain destruction isn’t enough to evoke sufficient audience emotion toward the detached, dull characters who blandly bring the movie to its knees. Perhaps a Bruce Willis led team of oil riggers would have been better served to mend the many flaws inherent in this one.
The film opens with Carell (Dodge) as the perpetual everyman, learning on the radio that the last ditch efforts to destroy the asteroid named Matilda as it approached the earth had failed, which would result in the planet’s demise. With just three weeks remaining before the eventual impact, the film explores how people’s lives and perceptions change knowing that the end is presumably near. Some continue along in a ‘business as usual’ fashion, while others throw caution to the wind with little left to lose. Once rioting breaks out along a nearby street, Dodge races to the aid of Knightley’s Penny, an incredibly deep sleeper who lives on the first floor of his building, to escape the fracas nearby. While Penny has missed her final opportunity to be reunited with her family in the U.K., Dodge vows that he knows a pilot that can get her home. In turn, Knightley promises to take Dodge on an excursion to reunite him with his long lost high school love- ‘the one that got away.’ While the two venture in a car for days, often times with far-fetched happenings encountering them along the way, their friendship grows stronger and the two begin to develop feelings for one another. With the world reaching its end and two lonely orphans now finding something in each other, they realize that all they need in their final days, is to be together.
Considering how you yourself might react to certain death is the aspect that makes this film fascinating. But the character arcs unfold so quickly and so thinly, that actually relating to them or feeling anything for them is impossible. Admittedly, there are nuggets of comedy laced here and there, but overall, “Seeking a Friend” is a plodding, slow, lagging movie, with a premise that deserved a much better fate. Throughout the film, there are times you question ‘will they’ or ‘won’t they’ get together but ultimately, you truly don’t care either way. That overwhelming disinterest in the characters is the result of a story that is not given enough time to develop. And if you can’t rally behind a set of characters (played by incredibly likable actors, mind you) in an ‘us against the world’ premise, then what we are left with is indifference toward a film that unfortunately, is not worth your time. If you knew the world would be destroyed in just three short weeks, how would you spend your final days? It’s a difficult question to answer, but for us, re-watching this film is certainly not one of them.
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is rated , starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, has a runtime of 101 minutes, and is released in theaters everywhere on Friday, June 22nd.
- Jane Van Arsdale