Friday, March 15, 2013

A Clever Indie Science Fiction-Drama, Safety Not Guaranteed Satisfies!

The Good: Decent writing, Good acting, Interesting story
The Bad: Make-up, Slow pacing
The Basics: Safety Not Guaranteed lives up to its potential as a quirky independent science fiction comedy.

Last year was a decent year for independent films, some of which were enjoyably unexpected. In fact, one of my favorite movies of 2012 was God Bless America (reviewed here!), which was intense and original. The big indie film I missed out on in the theaters was Safety Not Guaranteed. This film marked the first work I saw Aubrey Plaza in and was the biggest thing that Jake Johnson was in outside New Girl (season one is reviewed here!). And it was worth it.

Safety Not Guaranteed is a film I only knew about because my wife filled out a survey for an online survey site. I then saw a single preview, months ago, and promptly forgot about it. It was not that I was not intrigued by the film or its premise; it is just that the area I moved to when the film was released cinematically has no good independent movie theaters near me. With its release now on DVD, I took in Safety Not Guaranteed and it was an enjoyable indie science fiction comedy film.

Bored at Seattle Magazine, Jeff pitches writing up an article on an odd classified advertisement looking for a companion to join him on a time-travel expedition. When his editor, Bridget, lets Jeff take the morbid and unenthusiastic Darius and the magazine’s Indian intern, Arnau, the three go south to find the guy who claims to be able to time travel. When Jeff blows the first meeting with Kenneth (the alleged time-traveler), Darius makes contact with the reclusive man and intrigues him. Managing to survive his background check, Darius befriends Kenneth and begins training with him.

After training and helping Kenneth steal lasers from a nearby facility, Darius grows closer with Kenneth. While Jeff uses the time to just track down an old girlfriend, Liz, Darius and Kenneth plan to return to 2001. As Jeff realizes that he can’t just win back the woman he loved from his past, Darius and Kenneth go to reclaim their own pasts.

Like so many films, both indie and mainstream, Safety Not Guaranteed is really about the resiliency of love. The film takes a bit of a predictable turn in that Darius very quickly begins to find Kenneth’s quirkiness attractive. Darius has an intensity to her and she seems to appreciate Kenneth’s unique way of not quite fitting in more than anyone else. Given how she is immediately characterized as an outsider in the film, the way she starts giving the oblivious Kenneth smoldering eyes throughout the middle of the film seems entirely plausible, despite her Hollywood good looks.

In fact, that is one of the minor issues with Safety Not Guaranteed. Kenneth is portrayed as a perceptive guy – people truly are after him, for example – but he does not seem to notice Darius’s interest in him until she throws herself at him. For a guy who is smart and imaginative, it’s harder to believe that he cannot pick up on her interest.

What actually works, and I did not anticipate that it would, is Jake Johnson’s character, Jeff. Jeff seems to be a slacker and a guy who has no real redeeming qualities. He wants to be in love with his old ex-girlfriend and when he blows that, it becomes an excuse for him and Arnau to go out drinking. When Jeff starts to push Arnau toward losing his virginity on their night together, the plot excuse seems like it would be a cheesy excuse for a subplot. Instead, it actually humanizes Jeff in a weird way that, rather surprisingly, works.

Safety Not Guaranteed is engaging in that it keeps the viewer guessing as to whether or not Kenneth is crazy or has an audacious theory and ability he is ready to execute. The film seems to take a turn away from his plausibility when the people hunting him make contact with Jeff and Darius and Bridget discovers that Kenneth’s lost love, Belinda, is actually still alive and well.

There is also a serious problem with the make-up. Kenneth has a prosthetic ear, but it looks like a prosthetic ear long, long before he reveals that it is. So how it does not come up until it comes off is utterly ridiculous.

As well, the pacing in Safety Not Guaranteed is a bit off. It is long and slow and the build-up takes a long time to get to the payoff. The characters are interesting and the acting is subtle. And, for the first time in a long time, a film kept me guessing until the very last moment, making it an entirely worthwhile journey.

For other time travel movies, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Time Traveler’s Wife
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
The Back To The Future Trilogy


For other film reviews, be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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