Movie Review - Safety Not Guaranteed

Aubrey Plaza (left), Jake Johnson (right)
and Karan Soni (rear) in "Safety Not Guaranteed"
Another example of actors from television coming together to make an independent film. Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) plays Darius, a young girl who is working as an intern at a Seattle magazine. Jake Johnson (New Girl) plays Jeff, a reporter for that same magazine who comes up with an idea for an article about a man who posted an ad claiming to be able to travel backward in time. Mark Duplass (The League) plays Kenneth, the possible time traveler who may or may not be crazy. Karan Soni who isn't a TV star yet because he just started two years ago plays Arnou, another intern at the magazine who tags along.

The majority of the film is the relationship that develops between Darius and Kenneth. Darius starts off talking to Kenneth because of her job. After a while, she gets dragged into his insane plan. She then begins to fall for him, as he in turn has romantic feelings for her. Jeff and Arnou maintain skepticism, but Darius sees in him a kindred spirit.

The screenplay by Derek Connolly uses the idea of time travel as a crutch. It doesn't really concern itself with the mechanics or the usual quandaries. Time travel could be substituted for anything. Darius at one point references Albert Einstein and David Bowie. She references them to Jeff who immediately dismisses them, but, in actuality, the character of Kenneth could be considered a modern-day mix of the two.

He's a scientist and an inventor as well as a musician. Kenneth doesn't really have the style or pizzazz of either Einstein or Bowie. You wouldn't even think much of Kenneth by looking at him. He's just a guy who stocks shelves at a grocery store, but, despite being younger, Kenneth is not that much different from Doc Brown from Back to the Future (1985).

Before Doc Brown proved with his DeLorean the genius and power he possessed, how would anyone know to trust him? You would just have to take his word. This is the dilemma for Kenneth. He's all talk until he can prove his claims, so it all becomes a waiting game. There are detractors along the way, but all you have to do is wait and not even wait that long.

It's not as compelling because it's an easy victory. All it takes is a short wait. What if Kenneth didn't have proof? What if he had to do the impossible and prove a negative? It's like folie a deux. It's what happens in William Friedkin's Bug where a man convinces a woman to believe in something that was fundamentally untrue. A similar thing happened in Griff the Invisible, although that trick was more aimed at the audience.

But, again, it doesn't matter if Kenneth makes Darius believe that he's built a time machine. The beats work the same as any romantic comedy. It works as well as it does because Plaza and Duplass bounce extremely well off each other.

Jake Johnson is also great. He's now best known for his FOX sitcom, but he first entered my radar in Ceremony (2010). He's hilarious, and he gives a great performance of a man who is perhaps having an early mid-life crisis. Jeff doesn't have the ability to travel back in time like Kenneth but that doesn't stop him from exploring his past in other ways and trying in a sense to reclaim it.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language including sexual references.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 25 mins.


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