MOVIE REVIEW: 'Safety Not Guaranteed'

A rare film that entertains throughout, never skipping a beat or losing our attention. As characters face pains of regret and past decisions made, we hope that Kenneth gets his device to work.

Rewinding Regrets

RATED: ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5 buckets | WORTH: Matinee or DVD

Rated: R  Some sexual references and language.
Release Date: June 8, 2012
Runtime:  1 hour 24 minutes

Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writers: David Connolly
Cast:  Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, Karan Soni, Mark Duplass, William Hall Jr., Kristen Bell, Mary Lynn Johnson, Jenica Bergere

SYNOPSIS: One Seattle magazine reporter and two interns track down the person who wrote a classified personal ad looking for a companion to travel through time with.

REVIEW: Writer/director of the 2004 documentary Reality Show, Colin Trevorrow, returns to direct a independent sci-fi dramedy written by television movie Gary: Under Crisis scribe Derek Connolly which Trevorrow also directed. This year, Safety Not Guaranteedwas shown at the Sundance Film Festival, garnering a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize (Colin Trevorrow) and winning for the Waldo Salt Screening Award (Derek Connolly). Darius (Aubrey Plaza, Scott Pilgrim vs. the WorldParks and Recreation) goes through life in a denied depressed funk, working as an intern at a Seattle-based magazine. When the boss Bridget (Mary Lynn Rajskub, 24) looks to her reporters for new stories, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson, 21 Jump Street) brings up a classified ad he had come across where the submitter of the ad asks for a companion to time travel with. Spinning it to his boss as a gripping expose on the writer of the classified ad, Jeff, intern Darius and intern Arnau (Karan Soni, Touch) travel to the small coastal town of Ocean View to investigate the owner of the PO Box on the ad. When Darius discovers the owner of the box is a man named Kenneth (Mark Duplass, Your Sister's Sister), she follows him to find out more about him, where he work, and where he lives. When Jeff can't any more details from Kenneth when he poses as a responder to the ad, Darius is asked to approach Kenneth as a better suited possible companion for the ad. Once Kenneth starts to trust Darius, she realizes that there may be more at work than just a crackpot with a hair-brained notion of time travel, especially when she, Jeff, and Arnau discover that there are other, more government agency types following Kenneth too.

    WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me.
    This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. 
    Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. 
    I have only done this once before.

Derek Connolly wrote this script based on a real classified personal advertisement that found itself on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in the "Headlines" segment. As intriguing as the original ad was, Connolly and Trevorrow craft an even better story for film. Set in Washington state, Trevorrow portrays the Ocean View town as a hidden, out of the way, sleepy summer getaway - a far cry from the Seattle skyline filled with cynical magazine employees looking to debunk and interview the obvious loon who would write up such a crazy Wanted ad. Duplass' Kenneth must be crazy by all accounts but comes across as intelligent and hopeful. Even his absurd theories of quantum entanglement and divergent and alternate timelines, and paranoia about phantom agencies tailing his movements and recording his conversations doesn't dissuade or diminish our care for him or the mission. Comically, Kenneth runs through silly target practices with handguns and his new friend Darius. Darius may be in a several year funk, but her sharp wit delivers several great one-liners, including a response to the query of facing certain death. Connolly and Trevorrow add in the notion of nostalgic romance with Kenneth's long-standing quest to save an old girlfriend Belinda (Kristen Bell, Big Miracle) from death, dedicating his efforts to return to before the accident. Reporter Jeff returns to Ocean View with the singular mission to reconnect with an old teenage high school fling with a girl named Liz (Jenica Bergere,Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer). Coupled with the romantic notions is the dramatic twinge of regret that accompanies both the anguishing sudden loss of love and the idolization of a love lost to the days of the calendar and the miles of the road.

Connolly and Trevorrow brilliantly cast Safety Not Guaranteed, almost guaranteeing a superior film. Aubrey Plaza, already well-versed in cynical, crass behavior as April Ludgate on NBC's Parks and Recreation, brings the same intensity and bite to the role of Darius. Jeff, played by Jake M. Johnson, conveys the same manic flighty demeanor that serves him so well as Nick from New Girl. Karan Soni, as intern Arnau, doesn't share Darius and Jeff's cynicism, instead relying on innocence and romanticism to get by. Mark Duplass, as Kenneth, manages to balance an obvious obsessive unattainable science with the pursuit of his life's mission, like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Jenica Bergere completes the main cast as the former object of Jeff's adolescent desires, Belinda's eyes gleaming with the same wants and needs as when she was younger. While none of the cast are big screen superstars, their humanity and realism is what makes the film a success.

We all know that time travel is only real in books and in the movies. In the world of Safety Not Guaranteed, time travel is no more attainable than it is here in the real world. But Kenneth believes he can do it, and slowly starts to convert Darius as well. With actual agents tailing Kenneth, Jeff, Darius, and Arnau start to believe that there is something more at work than meets the eye. Even though the likes of Einstein never broke the physical barriers of space/time, we all wish there was a way back. Regrets of poor decisions, unforeseen dramatic events of our youth, and more plague our stray thoughts at any given moment. What would have happened if we had asked that girl or guy out on a date? What if we would have turned right instead of left at the stop light? What if our last words would have been different? When our elders impart their wisdom on the younger generations, they are attempting to erase the errant mistakes of their own youth.

Safety Not Guaranteed is a rare film that bucks the normal conventions, characters, and concepts. It entertains throughout, never skipping a beat or losing our attention. Even as each character faces their own pains of regret and questions decisions made, we all wonder and hope that Kenneth can actually get his device to work - at least once more. 

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