The new film, "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World," is exactly what the lengthy title implies. In it, Director Lorene Scafaria cautiously attempts to balance humor with impending doom. At times, she scores high marks, but, for the most part, the film fumbles along on its path toward the end of days.
Set in the near future, Earth is on a collision course with an asteroid named Mathilda; impact is due in 21 days. The manner in which humans cope with the news is varied. Some people choose to exercise, work, cut their lawns, hold garage sales, even floss their teeth while Armageddon approaches — and it is comic. Others take the debauchery route, trying heroin, spouse-swapping and kiddie martini quaffing. One optimistic observer opines that the apocalypse has leveled the field for sexual relations, on so many levels.
But Dodge (Steve Carell) feels nothing but lethargy. He regrets his entire life. An insurance salesman by trade, he realizes that he's never taken any risks and, to boot, his wife has just dumped him. As he swills cough syrup on his sofa, a spark of hope, in the form of his next-door neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), suddenly appears at his window. She has just kicked out her slacker boyfriend and finds a letter mistakenly put in her mailbox addressed to Dodge.
The letter is from his one true love, Olivia, and it seems she still has the hots for Dodge. Penny wants, desperately, to be with her family in London, and Dodge knows a guy who has a plane. So, they take off on a road trip, as rioters burn and loot their neighborhood.
Will Dodge find Olivia? Will Penny make it across the pond? Will the two fall in love? Or will they die alone? At this point, I stopped caring. What started off as a really funny commentary on human nature digresses into a sappy, sentimental swan song. And the lack of any sense of urgency, given such dire circumstances, just didn't click.
The film does have its moments. A trip to Friendsy's (a Ruby Tuesday-type eatery) is hilarious. Overly friendly host T.J. Miller and his staff are blissfully high with end-of-the-world fever (and, perhaps, some chemicals). After leaving, Dodge and Penny are pulled over by a Barney Fife-esque cop who puts them in jail for speeding. The cover on a newsstand magazine reads: "The Best of Humanity," sporting photos of Oprah and Jesus Christ; definitely laugh-out-loud stuff.
End-of-civilization love stories have been tackled previously in films such as "On the Beach," "Miracle Mile" and "Last Night." But Scafaria has ventured out onto slippery slope trying to inject humor into chaos. She doesn't actually slide off the mountain but is left dangling off the precipice in "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World."